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County gears up for AIS work plan

Lake Melissa has been designated an infested lake after zebra mussels were discovered there last week.

Lake Melissa was declared infested with zebra mussels last week, and that puts Becker County behind the 8-ball on invasive aquatic species.

The county board is expected to review a 33-page draft AIS management plan at its next meeting on Tuesday. A work plan will come out of that process.

“The AIS plan identifies some objectives, the work plan will figure out how to obtain those objectives,” said Becker County Environmental Services Director Steve Skoog.

At least the county has some extra money to work with: The Legislature appropriated $143,610 to Becker County for AIS purposes this year, and another $319,435 for next year, Skoog said.

The money has few restrictions as long as it’s used in the battle against aquatic invasive species, he added.

“We can use it to hire people to check boats at lake accesses, we can buy equipment like decontamination units,” Skoog said, adding, “We can use it to step up enforcement in Becker County,” which now has three seasonal part-time deputies enforcing AIS laws.

The funds aren’t limited to the fight against zebra mussels. “We could use it to combat existing stands of AIS, to suppress curly lead pondweed or flowering rush,”’ he said. “We could work with lakeshore associations, townships or cities to develop a program.”

The funding could be used to hire an AIS coordinator or other staff at the county level.

“They left the (grant) language pretty vague as long as we have work plan,” Skoog said.

In order to access the AIS funds, the County Board must approve a work plan, which the DNR must also sign off on.

Up until last week, when Lake Melissa was declared infested, Becker County lakes were considered free of zebra mussels — though nearby lakes in Otter Tail County were infested, including Pelican, Rose and others.

With the situation now changed, Skoog said, Becker County may need to reconsider its strategy of coordinating efforts by lake associations to inspect boats at public accesses through the use of volunteers and paid workers.

A new strategy with greater county involvement may be called for, but that will ultimately be a County Board decision, he added.

DNR workers recently checked Lake Sallie and Muskrat Lake and found no sign of zebra mussels, Skoog said. They will check Detroit Lake and Lake Sallie again in August.

The AIS funds going to Becker County are part of a statewide appropriation of $4.5 million this year and $10 million per year thereafter, divided among counties based on a formula that takes into account the number of public lake accesses and the number of boat parking spots at those accesses, Skoog said.

The county can save the funds from year to year and use them as needed for AIS purposes, he added.

Zebra mussels aren’t the only aquatic invasive species in Becker County: There are faucet snails, Chinese mystery snails and rusty crayfish, as well as purple loosestrife, yellow iris, flowering rush and curly leaf pondweed.

There are also a half-dozen invasive aquatic plants and animals threatening Becker County, including the spiny waterflea, Asian carp, and viral hemorrhagic septicemia, which causes widespread bleeding in sick fish.