Minnesota hosts invasive-species summit

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For the first time, Minnesota conservation leaders are meeting this week with scientists, boaters, marina owners, tourism leaders and others concerned about growing zebra mussels and other invasive species during a summit.

The first-ever summit Tuesday and today in St. Cloud is expected to become annual, helping local leaders learn from each other and what other states are doing to slow the spread of invasive species.

It follows the state starting to funnel money to county government programs for invasive species prevention — $4.5 million in 2014 and $10 million this year.

“This money has never gotten down to the grass-roots level. I think it will really move the needle,” Jeff Forester of the Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, one of the summit sponsors, told the (Minnesota) Star Tribune. “It’s really a shot of energy to local communities. People have been sitting back and saying the DNR needs to fix this problem. But the reality is they can’t.”

The state summit precedes a national gathering set for next week in Las Vegas.

That summit, sponsored by the state of Minnesota, Tonka Bay Marina on Lake Minnetonka, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Manufacturers Association, will focus on the effect of boat design on the spread of invasive species.

Back in Minnesota, more than 350 people are expected to attend this week’s state summit, also sponsored by the Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts, the Department of Natural Resources and the Association of Minnesota Counties. It’s hosted by the Initiative Foundation, a Little Falls-based organization that received $4 million from the state to distribute in local grants this year to pilot projects that are doing new things to prevent aquatic invasive species.

The “$4 million is merely an opportunity to test innovative ideas … but it could help direct [future] policy,” said Don Hickman, an aquatic biologist and leader at the Initiative Foundation.

“We have so much to protect in Minnesota because so many jobs and businesses depend on that,” said Barb Halbakken Fischburg of the Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations. “Infusing that money locally is the right place for it.”

Any change to the state’s lakes could impact not only boaters, but also resorts, lake businesses and the state’s $12.5 billion tourism economy.

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