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Attack invasive plants by preventing them

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Attack invasive plants by preventing them
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There has been a lot of talk about aquatic invasive species this summer, and this topic is at the forefront of this year's educational agenda of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations (Becker COLA) and Otter Tail County Coalition of Lake Associations (Otter Tail COLA).

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This issue hits close to home for those of you living on lakes where invasive species have already established. Today I'll talk about what aquatic invasive species are, their impacts, and what local groups have planned for upcoming education and prevention programs.

I'll start out by defining some commonly used terms. The terms "exotic", "alien", and "nonnative" can all be used to describe a species that does not naturally occur here, and has been brought here either accidentally or intentionally. In contrast, "native" plants occur naturally and are fully integrated into the ecosystem. Native aquatic plants are good and necessary habitats for fish, birds and other aquatic organisms.

Not all alien plants are harmful, but those that are can disrupt the natural ecosystem, out-compete native plants and take over large areas. These plants are considered "invasive" and "nuisance" species. Invasive aquatic plants can get out of control because there is nothing in the ecosystem naturally to keep the population in check. When invasive plants take over a lake or wetland, the biodiversity in the ecosystem can decrease, meaning that there are fewer different kinds of plants and animals that can live there. When invasive plants form dense mats, they change the habitat and make it unsuitable for fish, birds and other aquatic organisms.

The best plan of attack on aquatic invasive species is to prevent them from entering your lake in the first place. Once invasive species have established, it's pretty near impossible to get rid of them. They can be controlled with chemicals, but never eliminated. Chemical control is very expensive.

The DNR has a watercraft inspection program, where lake associations can have a DNR intern posted at your public access on designated days to inspect boats and trailers and survey boaters entering and leaving the lake. The DNR provides grants to partially cover the funding of this program, and lake associations are responsible for the remaining cost. This program is already implemented for 2008, but you can check the DNR web page this winter about the 2009 program.

Both the Becker COLA and Otter Tail COLA are focusing upcoming meetings on invasive species. At these meetings, I'll be speaking about which invasive species are present in Becker and Otter Tail counties and where. I'll provide a recap of the information in this column after the meetings. On Saturday, July 26, the Otter Tail COLA meeting program will focus on invasive species and prevention. This meeting is 9am at the Community Center in Otter Tail.

The Becker COLA is having a two-day educational seminar presented by the Becker COLA and the Becker County Master Gardeners on August 14-15 at the Detroit Lakes Technical College. This seminar will feature speakers from the DNR, University of Minnesota Extension Service, and the Minnesota SeaGrant Program. With all the information and speakers at this meeting, you should be able to have any questions about invasive species answered. The seminar requires registration, so for more information and the agenda, you can visit: http://www.minnesotawaters.org.

The key to preventing the spread of invasive species is to educate lake users on what these plants look like and how they are spread. We can all work together to keep our lakes healthy. Enjoy the lakes!

(Moriya Rufer is the Lakes Monitoring Program Coordinator for RMB Environmental Laboratories in Detroit Lakes, 218-846-1465.)

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