When it comes to fighting invasives, how much is enough?
WORTHINGTON -- In four weeks, I will be sitting in the State Office Building in St. Paul for a day and a half listening to 32 presenters make the case for their outdoor project to receive funding. The list of potential recipients has been narrowed from 38 down to 32 by a scoring process used by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.
There is about $200 million in requests and about $90 million available for funding these proposals. Many of those making requests are the same as in years past, but there are a few new ones. I am now asking you, the readers, to do two things for me. The first is to take a few minutes and send an email to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me what you think are the most pressing game, fish and wildlife needs for the whole state and, more locally, what southwest Minnesota needs the most.
Is it more places to hunt? Maybe wetland restorations are your highest priority. Whatever you think is what I need to hear. I have a responsibility to represent all of Minnesota, but a little local input is always needed and appreciated.
The second question is one I have been struggle with for several years that is now starting to come to head in the state. I have written about it before -- the struggle to stopping or slowing the spread of aquatic invasive species. They come in many forms, but the big picture getting all of the press these days is the three species of Asian carp headed our way.
Asian carp were brought to the United States and stocked in fish farms down south to control algae. It wouldn't take a rocket scientist to see that it was only a matter of time before a flood would over flow the man-made ponds and release these fish into natural waters. They have been on the loose for years and nobody in power did anything about it until they were, and are now knocking, on the door of Minnesota.
They have been found in the Mississippi River at Winona and as close as Lake Okoboji, just 40 miles away. I don't think there is anyone who thinks trying to stop these fish is a bad idea. My question is, how much money should we spend on control methods that have very little chance of being successful?
In the last round of Outdoor Heritage Fund Appropriations, the DNR was awarded $7.5 million to prevent the spread of these fish. Most of these funds were awarded by the legislature and not by the Outdoor Heritage Council. The majority of the plan is to construct a series of electric fish barriers to slow the movement of these fish. Even the people who presented the proposal say they are not 100 percent effective. Some methods are only 70 percent effective. No one really knows anything.
I struggle with less than 100 percent effectiveness because the same people in charge of the project say if even 10 individual fish get past the barrier, it is enough of a population to expand quickly upstream. Proponents of the plan will say if the fish can be slowed down, a more effective system might be found to control their numbers through an interruption of their life cycle.
Is it worth $7.5 million to slow the spread of these fish for a few years? Is it worth $20 million to slow them? How about $120 million? Would it be worth that?
It would be worth a lot if it actually works, but no one is very confident that anything we do will actually make much of a difference. Building a barrier on the Mississippi River, with all of the commercial barge traffic and recreational traffic, seems iffy at best and will take months -- if not years -- to get the necessary permits. By then it will most likely be too late to stop them in that location.
There are some parts of the plan I do like that will be happening in southwest Minnesota. Those are projects that completely cut off the carps' travel routes from one watershed to another. These are earthen berms on watershed boundaries that don't allow water to pass. Water is either held up completely or diverted back to the watershed where it originated. This seems to be one of the few options on the table that has a decent chance of working.
At a meeting last month, I asked the director of the Ecological Services Division of the DNR what the department was willing to do to stop these fish? When you start throwing millions and millions of taxpayer dollars at these projects, I said any and all measures needed to be on the table. I did not get the feeling from his response that they shared my beliefs.
So now I am asking you for your opinion. With the fish knocking on the door in southwest Minnesota, what is the proper amount of money that should be directed to this effort?
Remember that any dollar spent here is not available for other game, fish and wildlife projects in need -- and there are still many of them. There is also no answer or certainty as to whether these fish will ever be able to get a foothold even if they get here.
They have historically done best in degraded river systems and it is unknown if they can even reproduce in natural lakes in our area. So do we spend untold millions for a problem that might not actually even exist? If they can reproduce successfully and as few as 10 fish would get the job done, do we have any ability to stop each and every individual fish?
It is a perplexing problem with no answers and so many questions. The correct thing to have done was to never have allowed them into the United States to begin with. Almost all of the problems we have with exotic species of any kind have been started by humans. These fish can be moved a hundred different ways other than by swimming upstream on their own. How about in a bait bucket by accident or by one dumb person who catches a few and dumps them into the lake of a neighbor he/she hates or by many other methods?
I think it is only a matter of time before they be found everywhere that proper conditions exist that allow them to survive. Look at the common carp. It was introduced decades ago and was a disaster to our lakes and wetlands. In the past 50 years we have not come up with one decent method to control or rid our waters of this manmade problem. What makes us think we can have any better luck with a different species of exotic carp?
Let me know what you think by sending an email to me at email@example.com. As a member of the Outdoor Heritage Council who can only make recommendations and is not a member of the legislature, I have limited ability to affect the outcome -- but at least I can make sure your thoughts are known to those who can.
Scott Rall is the Daily Globe's outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.