St. Louis County hands out cash to battle invasives
St. Louis County today is slated to dole out nearly $750,000 to local groups to help fight the spread of aquatic invasive species on area lakes and rivers.
The money will go to help keep zebra mussels, spiny water fleas, rusty crayfish, Eurasian water milfoil and other nasty creatures from spreading into new lakes — including a $340,000 effort by the Sportsmen's Club of Lake Vermilion to boost boat inspections and education about invasive species at boat landings around the lake.
The 2,400-member club is one of eight groups that has been recommended for funding by county staff. County officials received more than 80 inquiries on the invasive species grants, including a dozen formal applications.
The city of Babbitt, for example, has plans for a $630,000 boat landing and boat-cleaning station on Birch Lake that would divert runoff into a sewage treatment plant rather than the lake. The County Board, meeting in Virginia today, is expected to give Babbitt $50,000 toward the decontamination part of the effort.
Counties across Minnesota are awash in invasive species cash this year after the 2014 Minnesota Legislature set aside $10 million for counties to spend to combat invasive species spread. It was the first such money for counties ever. Another $4 million is available from the state's Outdoor Heritage Fund through the nonprofit Initiative Foundation in grants.
The Lake Vermilion efforts are targeted at people who bring boats to the lake, the most likely vector for a new species introduction that could not only damage the lake's ecosystem but also the area's fishing-based economy.
It's estimated that some 18,000 boats are launched on the lake each summer at 54 public and private landings on Vermilion. The sportsmen's club hopes to make direct contact with 9,000 boaters each year through DNR-trained inspectors — 10 times more than any previous year's efforts.
"In our case, we are going to be doing much more of the same, and some new things, if we get what it looks like we'll get from the county. We're talking about more inspections and more contact and education with boaters right at the boat landings,'' said Jeff Lovgren, president of The Sportsmen's Club of Lake Vermilion.
Lovgren praised the Minnesota program for its effort to enlist local groups to battle invasives as opposed to larger state or federal agencies.
"This is an absolutely great program to get boots on the ground. ... Local people know their lakes and rivers best,'' he said.
The Lake Vermilion battle is slated to get another $60,000 from the county, through the North St. Louis County Soil and Water Conservation District, for the purchase of a boat decontamination unit — high-pressure, hot-water systems used to disinfect bilges, live wells and trailers where invasive species can hitchhike.
The St. Louis County Board in October voted to accept $306,356 from the state for 2014 and another $681,000 annually starting this year. County officials contracted with the University of Minnesota's Duluth-based Sea Grant program to develop an invasive species plan and develop a method for groups to apply for the cash.
The state is awarding the money based on the number of public landings and trailer parking spaces each county has. Out of 87 counties, St. Louis County has the second-highest number of boat launch sites at 166 and the highest number of watercraft trailer parking spaces at 1,173.
Barb Hayden, the county's director of planning and development, said the county will carry some 2015 money over into 2016. She said the county will strive to award next year's grants in spring so they can be used for the 2016 boating season.
Other aquatic invasive species grants scheduled for approval today by the County Board include:
• $61,541 to the Natural Resources Research Institute at the University of Minnesota Duluth to conduct an aquatic invasive species risk assessment for lakes and rivers within the county — essentially a chart of where the invaders are most likely to show up.
• $64,740 to the NRRI to conduct a baseline analysis and survey of what invasive plants currently are in county waterways.
• $107,000 to the nonprofit Wildlife Forever group to conduct a broad advertising campaign to raise public awareness of invasive species.
• $48,380 to the St. Louis River Alliance to develop an aquatic invasive species "sentry program'' to train residents and volunteers to recognize the species.
• $70,000 to the Alliance to identify and remove non-native phragmites from the lower St. Louis River.
Organizations eligible for the state money include joint powers boards, local governments, nonprofit organizations, soil and water conservation districts, watershed districts and lake associations.
There are now nearly 700 waterways (lakes or stretches of river) in Minnesota officially infested by at least one invasive species.