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Fighting aquatic invasive species top of list for local advocates

BEMIDJI — The fight against aquatic invasive species and how best to further an AIS taskforce committee was among the hot topics for area natural resource advocates in Beltrami County at a meeting here Thursday night.

Members of the Beltrami County Lakes and Rivers Association and the Friends of Lake Bemidji met with staff of the Hubbard County Coalition of Lakes Association and Northwest Minnesota Foundation to get a better understanding the task force’s work, as well as how to access special funds for local needs.

Ken Grob, chairman for the Hubbard County COLA and an expert on aquatic invasive species, spoke on the importance of further developing the local AIS taskforce and how to keep it relevant by sharing personal experiences of serving on Hubbard County’s AIS taskforce.

"If you don’t have goals and objectives set, you don’t know where you’re going and you’ll almost never get there," said Grob, who has been active in the Hubbard County taskforce since its start in 2005. "AIS is expanding in Minnesota, and whole counties need to get concerned."

Sydney Corrigan, vice president of BCLARA, was excited to learn about new ideas from Grob that can better the local taskforce, a committee that has been active since March.

"It’s nice to be able to hear from someone who has been doing this for so long so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel," Corrigan said. "It’s really all about networking and getting people involved and informed."

Nate Dorr, a representative for the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, spoke to advocates on lake charitable funds available and how to obtain them.

"The foundations like to take risks early on and we hope (lake association) systems can keep going on their own, and that they can move on to getting bigger grants," Dorr said. "AIS has taken priority in a lot of areas and so we know there is a need."

Dorr said the foundation works with about $75,000 in annual grants specifically delegated for natural resources.

"I have a personal interest in keeping the waters clean, and so does the foundation," said Dorr, who added grants are somewhat limited. "The foundation is especially interested in individual projects that can be collaborated with other lakes."

On Thursday, Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a bill that would have appropriated $3 million to fight AIS, an action that raised concerns with Grob. "I think maybe they aren’t seeing the threat that we are seeing and I don’t understand it," Grob said. "Also, I think with all the other budget issues this (legislative) session, it might be better heard next session."

Corrigan said she would have liked to have seen the bill passed, but said she knows the money will eventually come.

"Figuring out where all the money will go is one of the big government decisions," Corrigan said. "Local legislatures are supportive of us and we’ll get something eventually."

According to Corrigan, awareness is the first key in stopping AIS.

"It’s all about getting everyone big and small — from individuals, to communities to legislatures — involved in something like this," Corrigan said.

Article by Trent Opstedahl of the Bemidji Pioneer