Citizens are best line of defense against onslought of invasive species

By Jim Smoger, editor 

Wheaton Gazzette

Minnesota has been hit by a rash of stories about invasive species in recent months.

A few of the examples include:

• Two red swamp crayfish have been found in Tilde Lake in Clay County in northwestern Minnesota. It is the first time the invasive species have been confirmed in a Minnesota lake.

• Starry stonewort, an invasive species of macro algae, has been confirmed in Lake Winnibigoshish in Itasca and Cass counties, Moose Lake in Beltrami County and Rice Lake in Stearns County.

• Invasive species specialists with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have confirmed zebra mussels in Lake Minnewashta, a popular recreational lake near Lake Minnetonka. Confirmed in the greater Pelican Rapids lakes area was Franklin Lake, just a couple weeks ago.

The stories are a reminder about how fragile our lakes are and the need to be vigilant about their welfare.

In the case of red swamp crayfish, they might have come from a classroom aquarium. In the wild, the creatures compete with native species for habitat and eat tadpoles, snails and other small aquatic animals. Their burrowing habits make them extremely difficult to remove and cause damage to levees, dams and water control structures, according to the DNR.

In the case of the starry stonewort and zebra mussels, the discoveries come at a time when many boaters are starting to cut back on activities or bring in their boats or docks completely for the season.

These infestations are a reminder to follow the basic steps to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. These include the following: Cleaning aquatic plants and animals from watercraft, along with mud and debris; draining all water by removing drain plugs and keeping drain plugs out while transporting watercraft; and disposing of unwanted bait in the trash.

Virtually every corner of the state has been touched by instances where invasive species have entered lakes. Citizens remain the best line of defense in making sure they don’t move any faster.

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Editor’s note: Jim Smoger is longtime editor of the Wheaton Gazette weekly newspaper.  His editorial comments and columns will appear frequently in the Pelican Rapids Press.