Aquatic invasive species (AIS) commanded some attention at the legislature this past session. The governor, with the support of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), proposed new laws and funding early in the session – a step long-awaited.
Now, with the regular legislative session over, the policy-related elements of the AIS bills have been enacted.
However, the funding elements are in limbo along with most of the rest of the state funding matters. For now, here is a summary of some of what has been enacted into law:
• All water-related equipment, including boats and bait containers, must be drained before leaving any waterbody.
• Criminal citations may be issued for violations of laws pertaining to the transport of aquatic vegetation or failure to comply with the drain plug law.
• Watercraft owners must obtain and display an AIS sticker provided by the DNR.
• Authorized inspectors can now visually and tactically inspect watercraft.
• Inspections now include removal, drainage, decontamination or treatment to prevent the transportation and spread of AIS.
• Authorized inspectors may prohibit the launching of watercraft if the owner refuses an inspection or does not remove and dispose of aquatic vegetation prior to launching.
• Refusing an inspection or a removal order may result in a civil citation and the suspension of the watercraft license for a year.
The governor’s proposal also included additional funding for AIS as well as increased penalties. Various funding sources had been included in the House and Senate versions, but all funding bills were vetoed by the governor.
I would expect once the budget impasse is resolved, some additional AIS funding will be provided to support the policy bills. What were not included in any of the legislative versions (but had been included in the original policy bill) however, were the increased penalties.
The Lake Minnetonka Association has recommended increased penalties are critical for an effective AIS prevention program – so this is a disappointment.
So, what does this mean?
First of all, we are grateful the governor, legislature and the DNR are taking the AIS concerns seriously and have finally taken a significant step to improve the overall AIS management system.
DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, in the press conference announcing the governor’s AIS proposal, said he knew the proposal did not go as far as many people would like. And, I suppose that will always be the case due to the nature of the AIS Aquademic.
That day, we were reminded by a stakeholder involved in the process, “Let’s not let perfect get in the way of good.”
Secondly, we can expect the continued spread of AIS to lakes in Minnesota as well as into Lake Minnetonka. I think that spread will now be somewhat slower, but how much slower is uncertain.
Thirdly, we should be grateful for this step, but we must also remain vigilant. There will be more inspectors on Lake Minnetonka this year – good news. However, a significant focus for the inspectors will be on outgoing boats – good news for other Minnesota lakes. In addition, many of the Lake Minnetonka inspectors will not be DNR authorized so they will not have the authority to prohibit the launching of AIS-infested boats or boat refusing an inspection – bad news.
Fourthly, many of the new authorities will require active and aggressive enforcement to be effective. Recently, the enforcement of AIS laws has been minimal, so we hope enforcement actions will pick up the pace along with these new laws and authorities.
Finally, a significant statewide focus will be on zebra mussels, which makes sense from the state’s perspective.
Unfortunately, now that zebra mussels are in Lake Minnetonka, we will not benefit from the extra attention. Indeed, we remain exposed to additional AIS like quagga mussels, spiny waterflea, VHS, hydrilla, etc.
We are all going to have to remain on guard. The new laws will help and we are grateful. The DNR commissioner is correct, there can never be enough; although we think the balance remains tipped in favor of AIS.
Dick Osgood is executive director of the Lake Minnetonka Association, which is the voice for Lake Minnetonka lakeshore owners and businesses. See http://www.lmassociation.org.