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Local View: DNR is worst offender of invasive species rules

The July 11 front-page story in the News Tribune, headlined “DNR: Too many ignoring invasive species,” was right on the mark — except for one glaring omission: It failed to state that the worst offender is the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources itself. By employing a double standard, this state agency has circumvented its own regulations, and it has been doing so since the laws were enacted.

Historically, the introduction of non-native species into the environment was rarely, if ever, done without a negative outcome that exceeded benefits. This certainly was the case with regard to the steelhead and other non-

native fish of the salmon family dumped into Lake Superior. Though beloved by some sport anglers, these fish came at a cost. Literally and figuratively, the most evident price paid is the permanent environmental damage to North Shore rivers “reconfigured” to accommodate the exotics.

For the past several decades the Fisheries Division of the DNR periodically has launched ill-conceived missions to remove — with dynamite and jackhammers — waterfalls along eight North Shore Rivers, three or more times on the Knife River alone, to get rid of what the agency liked to refer to as “barriers” blocking the upstream migration of non-native steelheads.

The impact of removing dams and draining millions of gallons of beaver-impounded water was wiped-out wetlands essential for indigenous ducks, mink, foraging moose, amphibians, herons, songbirds, brook trout, bald eagles and, of course, beavers. Surveys now note a shortage of wetlands on the North Shore.

The expense of the perpetual stocking of exotic salmonids, incidentally, has, at times,

reduced the DNR Fisheries’ budgets for native species. While I have no current figures to quote, Ron Payer, retired chief of DNR Fisheries informed me that, “The total expenditure for all salmonid (steelheads, cohos, Kamloops, etc.) production and stocking activities for fiscal year 2003 was $2,053,736. Of this amount, an estimated 64 percent, or $1,314,391, was for non-native species, and 36 percent, or $739,345, (was) for native species” like brook and lake trout.

Significantly, the DNR never was able to give me a figure indicating how many people actually concentrate on trout fishing, but it has an accurate account of the numbers of non-trout stamp purchases of fishing licenses. Just as it never has made an effort to study the impact of the non-native salmonids on the indigenous lake species, it appears obvious to me the DNR truly doesn’t want to have this information.

More alarming is a shocking figure released by the DNR some years ago: “The average cost per steelhead caught is $720.” That’s a whole lot compared to the paltry few dollars spent for every walleye caught and even less for northern pike and other native game fish. Today the odds of catching a walleye in Lake Superior are extremely low, but this was not always true. According to the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, there once was an annual take of 100,000 pounds of walleye from Lake Superior. Duluth fish merchants in the early 1900s received and processed 10,000 tons of Lake Superior trout, whitefish and herring annually.

The recurrent thought in my mind is that a solidly scientific investigation should have been implemented before any of the non-

native salmonids were put into the Great Lakes, even if some of them were put here a century ago. This would have established whether their presence was likely to create the immense harm they did cause. I would suggest that, even after the fact, such a study is merited. In the interim, further stocking should be eliminated and the removal of waterfalls and beaver dam destruction should be banned.

It seems to be patently unfair to ticket and fine boaters for violating invasive-species laws while the DNR itself ignores the statute. I fully agree the law should be rigidly enforced — but not until and unless the DNR also conforms to it. Devoting all license fees exclusively to increasing the numbers of native species once again could afford the general public the opportunity to buy and savor locally caught native Lake Superior trout and walleye.

For more than 20 years I have spent countless hours in an attempt to convince DNR officials that its action is a travesty and must be immediately halted. A few at lower administrative levels have responded positively, but the current commissioner and his predecessor refused to respond to my letters. I believe it’s time someone blows this whistle.

Glenn Maxham of Duluth retired more than a year ago from his position as vice president of Save Lake Superior Association and attended numerous meetings with the Minnesota DNR on this subject.