There’s nothing like heading up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to get away from everything for a while…in theory at least. My friends and I recently returned from a four day, three night jaunt into the BWCA where we found beautiful scenery, good bass fishing, but not a lot of solitude. Apparently, our entry point on Moose Lake is the most popular in the BWCA, and the route we chose from there led us to a crossroads where people from all directions converged, leading to a severe shortage of campsites. There were multiple other groups at every portage we passed through and we acquired our last night’s campsite only by stalking a group from Kansas City that was packing up and getting ready to leave later that day.
When aquatic invasive species first started showing up in Minnesota lakes, I don’t think anyone was surprised. Invaders like zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil were already wreaking havoc in other states and it seemed natural that they would eventually make their way to some of the bigger, more popular lakes in Minnesota as well. There is an increasing sense of urgency now, however, as invasives have begun to show up in smaller lakes, closer to home, as well as northern lakes, theoretically remote.
This summer, watercraft inspectors working on behalf of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Washington Conservation District, and local Watershed Districts have been stationed at public launches around Washington County. Though the inspectors have no enforcement authority, they greet boaters as they arrive, check to ensure that drain plugs have been removed and no plants or animals are attached to boats and trailers, and educate people about how to avoid spreading aquatic invasive species. Recently, our office began looking at data collected from inspections during the first half of the summer, the results were astounding.
The good news is that the majority of people are following the rules and cleaning and draining their boats properly; all it takes is one bad seed to spoil the lake, however, so the need for education still exists. More surprising was the information collected about where people had come from before arriving at lakes and rivers in our county. We drew lines on a map to show these connections, and the resulting spider web spans the state from Washington County to the border of Canada.
Lake Superior (infested with ruffe) and Lake of the Woods (spiny waterflea) are connected to Lake Elmo and Big Marine Lake. Winnibigoshish (faucet snail and zebra mussel) connects to DeMontreville, and Mille Lacs (Eurasian watermilfoil, spiny waterflea and zebra mussels) to Big Carnelian and Big Marine. Likewise, Clear Lake in Forest Lake (infested with Eurasian watermilfoil) is connected by people to Birch Lake in Babbitt (which leads into the Boundary Water via the Kawishiwi River), and Lake Elmo (Eurasian watermilfoil) connects to the Boundary Waters as well. In addition, people made countless trips between metro area lakes and rivers, linking the Mississippi to the St. Croix, Lake Minnetonka to Tanner’s Lake, White Bear to Square, and more.
Looking at these “vectors of infestation,” it is clear that we must be hyper-vigilant if we hope to protect our remaining pristine waterways from invasive species. As my friends and I were reminded two weeks ago, few places in Minnesota are truly remote anymore. To avoid spreading aquatic invasives to our favorite places, always clean your boat and trailer when you exit a lake or river, remove the drain plug to empty the water, and if possible, leave the boat out of the water to dry for at least five (5) days before going to another lake or river. More info at www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/aquatic.