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State agencies release reports on status of state’s wetlands

June 25, 2012

by Chris Schultz

From the DNR

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA)and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) jointly issued reports on Minnesota wetlands, giving insight into the prevalence and condition of wetlands throughout the state.

The baseline data on wetland quantity reveal that Minnesota currently has 10.6 million acres of wetlands.

The initial survey on wetland quality, which focused on depressional wetlands such as marshes and ponds, showed that the plant communities in nearly half of the wetlands were in poor condition, while aquatic macroinvertebrates (such as aquatic insects, leeches and snails) fared much better.

Certain species of plants and aquatic macroinvertebrates are sensitive to various disturbances, so they are good indicators of a wetland’s ecological health or condition.

Together, these two reports provide a comprehensive view of the current status of wetlands in Minnesota.

In the northeastern region of the state, the majority of pre-settlement wetlands still exist, and a large percentage are in good condition.

However, in the western and southern parts of the state, where many wetlands have been lost, those that remain are generally in poor condition.

Wetlands serve a variety of functions, such as providing valuable habitat for wildlife, filtering out pollutants and sediment for the protection of downstream water quality in lakes and streams, and attenuating the impacts of floods by storing water during intense rain storms and snow melt.

In addition to downstream benefits, wetlands are important resources in and of themselves.

“Even urban wetlands that look like they have nothing but cattails in them can harbor dozens of species of plants,” said Glenn Skuta, MPCA water monitoring manager.

Findings:

• Minnesota has 10.6 million acres of wetlands, which comprise 19.7 percent of the state’s land cover, not counting deep lakes and rivers.

• Plant communities are in good condition in only 29 percent of Minnesota’s depressional wetlands, while 25 percent are in fair condition and 46 percent are in poor condition.

• Macroinvertebrate communities are in better condition with estimates of 47 percent good, 33 percent fair, and 20 percent poor.

• Forested wetlands make up 4.4 million acres and are the most common wetland type in Minnesota, followed by emergent wetlands (shallow marshes, wet meadows), shrub swamps, and deep marshes/ponds.

“Even though 10 million acres of wetlands may seem like a lot, Minnesota has lost about half of its wetlands since pre-settlement days,” says Doug Norris, Wetland Program coordinator for the DNR, Ecological and Water Resources Division. “Most of the loss has been in the southern and western part of the state. We need to be diligent about protecting what we have left.”

In 2006, the State started the wetland monitoring program to assess status and trends of both wetland quantity and quality.

Sampling for both the wetland quantity and quality monitoring programs is done on a repeating, multi-year cycle.

The results from the initial reports serve as a baseline that will allow the agencies to compare future data to reveal trends for wetland quality and quantity.

The information will allow the state to begin to understand whether policies, regulations, and incentives are achieving their goals.

DNR says aquatic invasive species violation rates are unacceptable
From the DNR

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has released some initial statistics from its increased aquatic invasive species (AIS) patrol efforts.

So far this year, the AIS violation rate among boaters is 20 percent.

“This rate is unacceptable,” said Maj. Phil Meier, DNR Enforcement Division operations manager. “The majority of violations could have been avoided if people had taken the time to change their routine when leaving lakes and rivers, and comply with AIS laws.”

The extra patrols began May 12 and will continue through the summer.

“Enforcement activities, whether educational opportunities or issuing citations and warnings, are geared towards compliance,” said Meier. “Enforcement is a primary motivator to changing the behavior of those who may intentionally or unintentionally move invasive species.”

Through June 6, conservation officers had worked nearly 3,200 hours dedicated to AIS enforcement, making more than 20,000 combined law and education contacts.

During this time, 193 criminal citations, 463 civil citations, 975 written warnings and 267 verbal warnings were issued.

Last year about 850 citations or warnings were issued to violators of Minnesota’s AIS laws.

That compares with 293 citations and warnings issued in 2010.

“We hope these citations, warnings and public contacts will continue to raise awareness that this state looks at invasive species very seriously,” Meier said. “We will enforce the rules.”

Under Minnesota law, it is illegal to transport invasive aquatic plants and animals, as well as water, from water bodies infested with zebra mussels and spiny waterfleas.

Violators could face fines up to $500. Some penalty amounts will double beginning July 1.

To help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species, anglers and boaters are required by law to:

• Drain bait buckets, bilges and live wells before leaving any water access.

• Remove aquatic plants from boats and trailers to prevent the spread of invasive species.

• Pull the plug on their boat and drain all water when leaving all waters of the state.

• Keep the drain plug out while transporting water-related equipment on roadways.

“Once an invasive species gets established into our waters, it’s very unlikely we can eliminate it,” Meier said. “That’s why vigilance and prevention are critical.”

For more information on aquatic invasive species and how to prevent their spread, visit www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/index_aquatic.html

Public comments open on proposed fishing contest rules
From the DNR

Citizens interested in commenting on permanent state rules designed to provide fishing tournament organizers with a clear set of guidelines can view the proposed rules on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website by selecting “Fishing Contest Regs” at www.mndnr.gov/input/rules.

Tournament policies have developed piecemeal over time.

The DNR has been working with tournament organizers and recent law changes to develop a clear set of rules governing fishing tournaments.

These rules will provide clear guidance to tournament organizers.

The new rules would:

• Detail conditions for issuing contest permits.

• List the criteria used to establish permit conditions.

• Restrict contests using live release formats when targeting sturgeon, muskellunge, trout and salmon.

• Limit live release contests targeting walleye during summer.

• Limit contests using off-site weigh-in formats.

• Grant permit holders the authority to possess, transport and distribute contest fish to nonprofit or charitable organizations, streamlining the gifting process for contest organizers.

• Manage contest use of state-owned access sites to accommodate contest participants but also assure public use.

Comments must be submitted by Friday, Aug. 24, to Linda Erickson-Eastwood, DNR Fisheries, 500 Lafayette Road, Box 20, St. Paul, MN 55155-4020.

Comments also may be emailed to linda.erickson-eastwood@state.mn.us.

CO weekly reports
From the DNR

• CO Brian Mies (Annandale) station checked anglers this week.
CO Mies worked on a waters case.
CO Mies checked on a wetland complaint.

• CO Rick Reller (Buffalo) sent most of the week assisting at the Academy during waterfowl enforcement week.
Reller also checked anglers and boaters over the weekend but the rain on Saturday kept watercraft activity low.
A nuisance beaver permit was issued this week. Enforcement action was taken for angling without a license and PFD violations.

• CO Steve Walter (Waconia) spent the week at Camp Ripley teaching waterfowl school to Academy 13.
Several injured and nuisance animal calls were handled.

• CO Wayne Hatlestad (Litchfield) checked angling and boating activity.
Additional time was spent checking and enforcing AIS laws.
Hatlestad also completed a pre-employment background check, and followed up on an ATV complaint.

• CO Brett Oberg (Hutchinson) worked angling and boating enforcement.
CO Oberg again followed up on dumped deer carcasses by a drainage ditch.
Officer Oberg also spent time getting materials ready for upcoming training.
Nuisance animal calls were also handled.

• CO Jackie Glaser (Mound) completed a background investigation on a CO candidate.
She attended a kids fishing event in Brooklyn Park.
She also investigated a license fraud and a littering case.

Question of the week
From the DNR

Q: What is the purpose of native aquatic plants along a shoreline?

A: Aquatic plants are essential components of most freshwater ecosystems.

Many of Minnesota’s most sought-after fish species depend heavily on aquatic vegetation for food, protection from predators and reproduction.

In addition to fish, many wildlife species depend on aquatic plants for food and nesting sites.

Aquatic plants not eaten directly by waterfowl support many insects and other aquatic invertebrates that serve as important food sources for migratory birds and their young.

Emergent aquatic vegetation also provides nesting cover for a variety of waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and songbirds.

The reproductive success of ducks nesting near lakes, for example, is closely tied to the availability of aquatic plants.

Beyond providing food and shelter for fish and wildlife, aquatic vegetation maintains water clarity, prevents suspension of bottom sediments and limits shoreline erosion by moderating the effects of wave and ice erosion.

A healthy native plant community also prevents the establishment of non-native invasive aquatic plants.

In short, many of the things that we enjoy most about lakes are directly linked to aquatic vegetation.