by Scott Brown, MWA Board of Directors

Pro-active Support from the Minnesota State Legislature and an Aquatic Invasive Species Surcharge on Watercraft Registrations Provide the Necessary Resources to Enable an Effective Battle Against Exotic Aquatic Invasive Species

Responding to increasingly widespread infestations of Eurasian watermilfoil, curly-leaf pondweed, starry stonewort, zebra mussels, and spiny water fleas, that are known to represent a significant public health threat, and that may also severely limit the capacity of affected aquatic ecosystems to support desirable native aquatic plant and animal species, the Minnesota state legislature has acted to establish a well-funded and intensely pro-active Minnesota’s Invasive Species Program.

Providing robust funding appropriations and enabling sustainable funding mechanisms in order to effectively administer programs that are dedicated to curbing the spread and harmful influences of aquatic invasive species, Minnesota’s state legislature seems to understand that rapidly propagating exotic aquatic invaders represent a dire threat to the current and future recreational status and economic value of their state’s vast natural legacy of high-quality inland lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands that forms the basis of  Minnesota’s $16 billion dollar freshwater ecosystem-based tourism industry.

Minnesota’s robust Invasive Species Program includes a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) administered Aquatic Invasive Species Control Grant  that is intended to help local entities such as lake associations, watershed districts, cities, and counties fund the control of curly-leaf pondweed, Eurasian watermilfoil or flowering rush. Minnesota also administers a program entitled Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Aid that is dedicated to preventing or limiting the spread of non-native, aquatic invasive species at the county level. Revenue provided by the program is allocated based upon each county’s share of watercraft trailer launches, and watercraft trailer parking spaces. The Minnesota Department of Revenue, for example, has certified $135,409 to be utilized for aquatic invasive species prevention efforts in Washington County, Minnesota for 2021. County officials will utilize the funds in partnership with the Washington County Conservation District in order to provide countywide aquatic invasive species control focused operations, including watercraft inspections, early detection, rapid response, and outreach education efforts. It is important to point out that Minnesota’s aquatic invasive species (AIS) prevention aid program has provided $10 million dollars to Minnesota counties each year since 2014.

Minnesota’s robust spending to support the fight against exotic aquatic invasive species doesn’t stop with the $10 million dollars that is annually appropriates to counties through the AIS prevention aid program, the state legislature also appropriates a $9 million budget to the Department of Natural Resources in order to support operations related to aquatic invasive prevention and enforcement each year. What is particularly important for our readers to understand is that Minnesota funds it’s robust exotic aquatic invasive species management programs in large part by levying a $10.60 aquatic invasive species surcharge on each three-year watercraft registration, a $5.00 aquatic invasive species surcharge on the sale of each non-resident fishing license, an annual AIS control activities dedicated appropriation from the Minnesota state legislature, and a modicum of federal funding. Minnesota’s lake associations spend an additional $1.65 million per year on activities related to the protection of their respective lakes from the potential ravages of exotic aquatic invasive species.

It is important to note that the justification for the establishment of an aquatic invasive species surcharge of $10.60 on every three-year recreational watercraft registration in Minnesota is derived from the fact that recreational watercraft owners utilizing public boating access sites are known to be an important in-water vector for the secondary spread of exotic aquatic invasive species. By often neglecting to inspect their boat, trailer, and related equipment, and/or by failing to take the time to remove visible exotic aquatic plant fragments, or animals such as Eurasian water milfoil, or zebra mussels before transporting their craft to a new public boating access site, recreational boaters are considered major contributors to a growing and increasingly difficult to fund and manage exotic aquatic invasive species related problem that exists in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, and throughout the freshwater ecosystem inundated upper Midwest.

The state’s exotic aquatic invasive species control program also includes a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources administered Preventing Aquatic Invasive Species through Behavior Change program that aims to promote the adoption of desirable aquatic invasive species (AIS) prevention behaviors and create positive social norms supporting AIS prevention in Minnesota.

Minnesota’s relatively well-funded and robust exotic aquatic invasive species control program is administered by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in collaboration with the  Minnesota DNR AIS Advisory Committee, local units of government, native American tribes, surrounding states and Canadian provinces, multi-jurisdictional groups concerned about the spread of aquatic invasive species, academic researchers, and in particular those assigned to the University of Minnesota-based Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center,  Using “innovative science to identify solutions to Minnesota’s AIS problems”, the University of Minnesota-based center’s primary mission is to “develop research-based solutions that can reduce the impacts of aquatic invasive species in Minnesota by preventing spread, controlling populations, and managing ecosystems; and to advance knowledge to inspire action by others.”

Readers of the Michigan Waterfront Alliance newsletter should look forward to addition articles and information regarding Minnesota’s robust exotic aquatic invasive species management program in the near future…