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Bravo to County for hiring AIS coordinator

Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA) and Pelican River Watershed District would like to add its support to the Record's commendations of the Becker County Board for taking a first step in the fight against aquatic plants and animals with the hiring of an AIS coordinator. We are pleased that in taking that action, the Board acknowledge that fighting zebra mussels, flowering rush, Eurasian Watermilfoil and Spiny Waterfleas (to name a few) will take much more work and an additional financial investment over the long term if we are to have a chance of saving public waters from being forever altered.

This task may sound daunting and hopeless, but we already have a shining example of success just outside our front door. Back in 2008, Barb Halbakken Fischburg recognized that Flowering Rush was choking the public beach, Detroit Lakes' greatest asset and the center of tourism in the region. She was instrumental in organizing "Crush the Rush" -- a citizen-led effort to eradicate this non-native plant from the shoreline. Barb also began what has become her full-time mission to educate our elected officials about the threats posed by AIS and to get tougher legislation and programs in place to better protect Minnesota's public waters. In 2011, thanks to those early efforts, the public beach was packed on summer days and our local economy benefitted from the tourism economy. Barb's early leadership and unwavering dedication has made her a statewide expert on aquatic invasive species, all to the benefit of Becker County.

There are a great many people involved already in the fight to shield Becker County waters from invasive species. Last year, 50+ COLA volunteers were trained as watercraft inspectors providing valuable educational materials at public access sites on area lakes. These inspectors conducted more than 4,000 watercraft inspections. Also in 2011, more than 40 area lake service providers -- the dock and lift companies -- participated in DNR training on AIS. (By the way, when you hire someone to install your dock or lift, ask to see their certificate. Training is now required by law.)

And, like Barb, all of us who live and visit Becker County can make a difference. Yes, the lakes are frozen today but it's not too early to begin thinking about ways you can join this effort. Are you a member of your lake association? Do you attend COLA meetings? Have you written a letter or made a phone call to a legislator, city council member or county commissioner urging them to take action? Right now is a perfect time to start by encouraging our elected leaders to take aggressive measures right now, before open water 2012.

Last month at the Aquatic Invasive Species Legislative Summit 2012, hosted by Pelican River Watershed District, Becker County COLA, Lake Detroiters Association and a host of co-sponsors from across Minnesota, more than 350 concerned citizens and legislators gathered together to focus on AIS. The theme was "Bold Action Now." That was a good effort too, building on the 2011 Legislative Summit and the passage of the Minnesota 2011 AIS legislation.

We encourage all those who cherish Minnesota's greatest resource, our public waters, to take Bold Action Now to protect our heritage for future generations. -- Dick Hecock, President, Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations, Terry Kalil, Vice President, Becker County Coalition of Lake Associations, Tera Guetter, Administrator, Pelican River Watershed District