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Minnesota eyes plant, animal invasion

ST. PAUL - Minnesota legislators may be about to expand a war.

And for battles they can't wage themselves, they may seek aid from Washington.

The House Game, Fish and Forestry Division Monday approved a resolution asking Congress to authorize war on viral hemorrhagic septicemia, a disease that apparently does not hurt humans but kills fish. It can be transported via ships that ply Lake Superior's waters.

State Department of Natural Resources officials said they will present bills to battle other plant and animal invaders.

"There are no easy fixes," the DNR's Steve Hirsch told committee members.

Representatives watched a video about silver carp that fly out of the water and can hit people on watercraft. The carp also can decimate native fish. They are not known to be in Minnesota now, but experts say they are flying their way up the Mississippi River and will arrive soon.

Committee members heard of efforts, with varying degrees of success, in battles against Eurasian watermilfoil, purple loosestrife and curly-leaf pondweed.

A major need is increased education to show boaters, for instance, the need to take measures to eliminate the unintentional transportation of these so-called invasive species, Hirsch and fellow DNR official Jay Rendall said. State agents last year spent 26,000 hours inspecting boats and other watercraft, Hirsch said.

A new concern is firewood brought in from areas with pests, such as the emerald ash beetle. The DNR officials said they will offer legislation this session to ban firewood importation.

"We need to change our behaviors as we recreate on our lakes and in our woods," Hirsch said.

The DNR officials made an impression on committee members.

"This picture you paint is pretty bleak," Rep. Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji, said.

Committee Chairman David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said he expects good support from lawmakers when the DNR asks for help curbing the invasion because so many areas will be affected. However, he added, legislators need to be educated because many "are really not in the know about the potential for invasive species."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.