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Keep Minnesota lakes pristine; pick up your trash

For many Minnesotans there is nothing like walking on a frozen lake, carving a hole and pulling up an elusive fish from the depths below. When word gets out that there's a good fish bite on a lake, ice anglers descend on the spot. Often that pristine environment becomes littered with bottles, cans, cigarette butts, or worse.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation officers say the biggest problem is identifying the perpetrators.

"Lakes are normally ringed by fish houses this time of year so conservation officers find it challenging to identify who is leaving trash on a lake," said Capt. Ken Soring, DNR Enforcement northeast regional manager in Grand Rapids. "Another factor is the wind, which makes it difficult to prove where the trash came from. And we just don't have enough conservation officers to thoroughly enforce litter laws."

Litter is a petty misdemeanor criminal charge with a fine of up to $300.

Conservation officers also have Solid Waste Civil Citation authority. These civil citations are "by the pound" or "by the cubic foot" penalties, and since they are not criminal charges, they don't require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The person suspected of littering must pay the penalty and clean up the mess.

Conservation officers on Lake Mille Lacs utilize a blaze orange "notice" door tag with a label pasted on the back that essentially asks people to take their litter and blocking materials with them. Officers place the tag on fish houses, especially those that have litter around them. The tag also mentions the statute and potential penalty for violating the law.

"Officers will be documenting houses that have litter around them or look like they may be abandoned," said Lt. Rita Frenzel, Lake Mille Lacs District Enforcement supervisor. "Given the size of Mille Lacs and the number of houses, this may be somewhat hit and miss. But we will be diligent in pursuing litter cases." She noted officers will also be talking to resort owners about removing blocking material and remnants of ice bridges discarded on lakes.

The DNR offers the following tips to keep Minnesota waterways clean:

• Set an example for others, especially children, by not littering.

• Properly dispose of tangled fishing line to prevent wildlife from being trapped and injured.

• It is unlawful to dispose of ice fishing shacks anywhere in the state. Check with local refuse provider or landfill for disposal.

• Litter is a costly problem that we all end up paying for to keep our roadways, parks, and waterways clean. The act of littering not only hurts our pocketbooks, but it also causes harm to our environment in many ways.

• Keep a litter bag or trash container in your fish house, dark house, or shelter.

• Secure trash containers to prevent wind or animals from spreading litter.

• Cover and secure any vehicle, truck, or trailer carrying refuse.

• When visiting any recreation area, make sure to leave the area clean for the next person to enjoy.