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New website tracks invasive species

A new tool is available for folks who care about St. Louis Country lakes to guard against aquatic invasive species. Experts at UMD's Natural Resources Research Institute have compiled an interactive website overlaid with multiple data sets that s...

A new website offers data on 1,139 lakes in St. Louis County, including whether they are or are likely to become infested with invasive species. The red lakes in this search are infested with rusty crayfish. NRRI officials hope the website can help people take action to prevent the spread of invaders. News Tribune photo.
A new website offers data on 1,139 lakes in St. Louis County, including whether they are or are likely to become infested with invasive species. The red lakes in this search are infested with rusty crayfish. NRRI officials hope the website can help people take action to prevent the spread of invaders. News Tribune photo.

A new tool is available for folks who care about St. Louis Country lakes to guard against aquatic invasive species.

Experts at UMD's Natural Resources Research Institute have compiled an interactive website overlaid with multiple data sets that show 1,139 lakes 5 acres and larger in the county.

There are dozens of categories of data for each lake - from how big they are and what kind of fish to how much calcium they have to how many boat ramps are on the lake and how clear the water is.

You can click to see which lakes have already been infested by specific invasive species. But the website goes much further and can show where boat ramp surveyors have collected data, where boaters at that lake are coming from and what invasive species are in those waters.

The goal is that people can use the site to assess risks for each lake - and then maybe take action to keep invasives out.

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Already 143 lakes in St. Louis County are infested with one or more of the 23 invasive species on the official list - critters like zebra mussels, spiny water fleas, rusty crayfish and the Chinese mystery snail and weeds like starry stonewort, purple loostestrife and Eurasian water milfoil. (Lake Vermilion for example, has seven of the 23 invaders already.) These are species that outcompete natives for food and disrupt the food chain or choke out waterways and native habitat. Nearly all the invasive species are moved, inadvertently, by people. Most can't move far on their own.

You can search the website by lake or search by species, showing how many lakes in the county have each invader.

For some lakes, the data shows anglers and other boaters come from hundreds of miles away, trailering their boats - sometimes still wet from the last lake they were in - to fish in a St. Louis County lake.

The project was the brainchild of the NRRI's Josh Dumke who applied for a state of Minnesota invasive species prevention grant funneled through St. Louis County. He received $62,000 to develop the project that was unveiled last August.

Now, just in time for boating and fishing season, the site - data.nrri.umn.edu/ais/ - is available for anyone to explore.

The site was designed to be the most helpful to officials as they decide where to get the most bang for their buck when deciding on aquatic invasive species grants for prevention projects.

But the site might also be an eye-opener for cabin and lake home owners and others who care about lakes that haven't yet seen the benefits of invasive species grants - lakes with small or no formal lake associations that might be in danger of the next infestation.

Each lake in the county is color-coded on the map - red are the lakes most likely to see an introduction, blue are at moderate risk and gray at the lowest risk based on how often boaters are coming from other areas.

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"People may not know their lake is at risk,'' Dumke said."This will help them make that risk assessment."

Dumke discovered that, for some of the county's most popular lakes, vitors are towing their boats from all corners of Minnesota and from across the Midwest to fish and boat here. Lakes with more of that visiting traffic are most at risk of a new invasive invasion.

"I'm hoping that people who live on lakes that maybe don't have a lake association and haven't had a surveyor at the boat landing or haven't had any formal AIS efforts can use third (website information) to get the information they need to go apply for a project of their lake. Maybe hire a summer intern to keep track of where those boats are coming from,'' Dumke said.

No other Minnesota county has this comprehensive of a data set available, Dumke noted.

"I was surprised by how far people were coming to get to some of our lakes,'' Dumke said. "This really helps you see that movement."

Related Topics: BOATINGFISHING
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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