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Tom Watson and Nick Phelps - photos submitted by Alan Sherburne
Joe Brodil -AIS Director

WAPOA AIS Roundtable a success

Web posted May 15, 2018
Over 60 people attended WAPOA’s 4th Annual AIS Roundtable event on April 28th. There were seven speakers, who shared the latest information on many water quality and AIS related issues and opportunities relevant to our area.

Jake Frie, Crow Wing County (CWC) Supervisor, Environmental Services shared the 2018 Crow Wing County AIS Prevention Plan. He provided details on how the $450,000 state appropriations would be utilized to detect and prevent the spread of AIS. He explained that most the county resources would be focused on inspection of the 51 watercraft public accesses determined to pose the very highest to moderate risk of spreading AIS; operations of decontamination stations; and education and enforcement. Area lake associations, like WAPOA and others, will augment the efforts of CWC inspectors, by providing over 16,000 hours of paid and volunteer inspection hours.

Tom Watson, President of WAPOA, stated that seven percent of MN lakes are infested with AIS, up from five percent last year. Although this may sound low, 32 lakes in Crow Wing County are infested with Zebra Mussels, and 15 with Eurasion Watermilfoil. It is a fact that AIS infestations can adversely affect water quality, recreational use, fishing activities, and negatively affect property values. Tom also shared an overview of the Wright County Mandatory Watercraft Inspection strategy that was approved again for 2018. Speakers from Wright County have been invited to present their challenges and successes with this program at a seminar sponsored by WAPOA in June 2018. Watch for the date and location details.

Dr. Nick Phelps, Director of the MN Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC), updated the group on AIS research being conducted by the center at the U of MN and across the state of MN. MAISRC is utilizing interdisciplinary techniques to find research-based solutions to reduce the impact of AIS, prevent its spread, control existing populations, manage ecosystems, advance knowledge about AIS, and inspire ACTION! Much effort is going into studying Eurasian Watermilfoil, Starry Stonewort, Spiny Waterflea, Zebra Mussels, Common and Asian carp, and pathogens that can infect fish. One study involves determining the effect of anti-freeze and the time required to kill zebra mussels during boat winterization.

DNA analysis by MAISRC of the zebra mussels found across the state and in the Brainerd Lakes area shows that they have spread from lake to lake within our local area and have NOT come into our lakes from other areas such as Lake Minnetonka/Leech/Twin Cities Lakes. This DNA information (like the popular DNA testing of people to learn their ancestry) helped define how they were spread by people/watercraft, and it may also lead to the discovery of a vulnerability of zebra mussels that could herald an effective biologic treatment.

In addition to the science-based findings that could be used in the fight against AIS, MAISRC is also performing social science studies, to learn how AIS is spread by people, and to develop prevention techniques. They ask the questions “Can it get there?” and “If it does, can it survive?” This data helps focus resources on highest risk areas and lakes. The answers can help decide where to place decontamination stations, and where to post watercraft inspectors for the best education and prevention impact. MAISRC is involved in many interesting AIS research studies. They are hosting a MAISRC Research and Management Showcase at the U of MN in St. Paul on September 12, 2018. If you are interested in attending or learning more about MAISRC’s activities, visit www.MAISRC.umn.edu.

Bethany Bethke, DNR Fisheries Research Biologist from the French River-Duluth Office, who also collaborates with MAISRC, presented information about the effect of zebra mussels and spiny waterflea on sport fish. It is known that zebra mussels filter out the phyto-plankton, and spiny waterfleas filter out and deplete zooplankton in the lakes. The plankton are what are eaten by small walleye and other small fish. Bethany is a member of a team that is studying nine major walleye lakes in MN. Some of these lakes are infested with zebra mussels or spiny waterflea (or both), or starry stonewort, and some that have no AIS. They are collecting data on these lakes, including walleye numbers, zooplankton levels, the growth of small walleye and yellow perch, to see if there is a correlation between fish size and AIS levels. They collect samples throughout the season and use isotope analysis of fish tissue to determine what they have been eating the past three months. Typically, walleye eat yellow perch, then switch to Cisco in July. This study will determine the nutrient levels in the tissue, identify where the fish are eating (depth), and what they are eating. They can then compare the tissue data (eating habits) of fish from AIS infested lakes with those fish in un-infested lakes to assess the impact of AIS on sport fish populations. Typically, offshore fish have different levels of nitrogen and carbon in their tissue than near-shore fish. The data and conclusions from this research project will be published in mid-2019.

A presentation and discussion of how to engage high school and middle school students in AIS control was led by Aaron Nelson, Principal of Pequot Lakes High School; Jessica Malady, STEM and Biology Teacher at Pequot Lakes High School; Mike O’Neil, Principal, Pequot Lakes Middle School; and Todd Lyscio, Director of the Crosslake Community School. It is possible that students at these and other schools could tap into existing, successful AIS educational projects and programs sponsored by area lake associations and others in the fight against AIS. By getting them involved, the students would learn data collection skills, then apply the data in the fight against AIS. WAPOA and MAISRC and the school administrators all agreed that getting young people involved would be a very effective tool: to have students learn about AIS, its prevention and control, and then they would educate their friends and family on how to be good stewards of the lakes and environment. WAPOA will be working with these schools to to engage students to become involved in the fight against AIS and protecting water quality.

Joe Brodil, AIS Director for WAPOA, presented information on the AIS Detector Program. We are looking for volunteers to be “certified” as AIS detectors by learning how to identify AIS through both on-line and in-person classes. AIS Detectors would be called upon by the DNR to help citizens identify potential AIS on their lake or other local lake property, so that it could be quickly addressed and contained. The next AIS Detector class will be held on May 18th. For more information contact Joe Brodil at jmbrodil@live.com.

Nick Phelps, MAISRC stated; “None of us is as smart as all of us!”. It is going to take  concerted effort and collaboration by many government and community groups, lake associations, scientists, and individual citizens to prevent the spread of AIS, control existing populations, and educate and inspire everyone who enjoys the lakes to do all they can to protect this invaluable natural resource.

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