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DNR strict on permits to remove lake weeds

When John Johnson got a ticket this summer for improper placement of his lakeshore weed-control device, he contacted Minnesota Department of Natural Resources officials to complain.

Johnson, who has a residence on Pelican Lake in Otter Tail County, said he was fined $235 for anchoring his WeedRoller on one corner of his dock, when his permit required it be attached to the other corner.

"It was splitting hairs," said Johnson, who said he's been told his ticket may be voided.

Johnson said based on what he's heard from others on the lake, his ticket was part of a DNR crackdown on weed-control devices.

Yes and no, say DNR officials.

Permit enforcement is conducted every year, but a new process that started about two years ago places a focus on specific lakes each season, said Leslie George, an aquatic vegetation expert with the DNR in Glenwood.

In 2007, the emphasis was on lakes in the Alexandria area, George said.

This past summer, it was on a number of lakes in Becker and Otter Tail counties.

Owners of lake property in Minnesota may employ various means to rid beaches of weeds.

George said many use a WeedRoller, a device made by a company in West Fargo that requires a permit when used in Minnesota in order to protect essential habitat for fish and other wildlife.

Typically, when permits on a lake are checked, about

10 percent are expired, or the permit holder is using the device in a way the permit doesn't allow, George said.

"These WeedRollers work so well, people are apt to start moving them around," he said.

Of the 90 or so permit holders checked on Pelican Lake this summer, about a quarter were either cited or warned, said Joe Stattelman, a DNR conservation officer.

Stattelman said for the past two seasons, he and other conservation officers have teamed with George when it comes to permit enforcement.

George does much of the inspecting, with conservation officers doing follow-up that includes writing tickets.

A list of all the lakes covered by the enforcement campaign this summer was not yet available.

Stattelman said he focused on Big Detroit, Little Detroit, Curfman, Eunice, Maud, Sallie and Melissa in Becker County.

The enforcement effort snared a high-profile law enforcement official: Cass County State's Attorney Birch Burdick.

Asked about the $235 fine he had to pay for a WeedRoller used on Lake Melissa after a permit had expired, Burdick said the ticket was valid.

"It's my mother's lake place, but I take care of those kinds of things, and I had failed to get a permit for this year," Burdick explained.

Permit enforcement seems to get people's attention, according to Stattelman, who said checks on Big Detroit, Little Detroit and Curfman resulted in about 23 citations last year.

This year, citations on the same lakes totaled about 13.

Site specific

Stattelman said weed control permits focus on the square footage to be cleared and diagrams on the permits show exactly what areas may be groomed.

If property owners move their docks or shift where on the dock a weed-control device is anchored, they may be clearing an area larger than what their permit grants, Stattelman said.

"They think they're allowed a specific location on the dock, when in fact they're allowed a specific location in the lake," Stattelman said.

Because Minnesota lakes are public waters, Stattelman said it's important to control how much vegetation is affected by weed clearing.

"Obviously, with the number of violations we're finding, we have to check up on people," said Stattelman, who added some people like to use lakes for things other than swimming.

"Those areas (of vegetation) are good habitat for fish," he said.

"We're trying to give everybody a piece of the lake they enjoy."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555