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No new lake accesses for five years?

By Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press

Douglas County anglers looking to launch their boats at new public accesses may have to wait a few more years.

Lawmakers are considering bills in both the Senate and House that would prevent the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from building public access ramps on public waters that don't already have them.

The reason for the five-year moratorium is to give the DNR - and concerned citizens - time to find ways to prevent the introduction and spread of exotic invasive species into lakes.

In Douglas County, there aren't many lakes that support a permanent game fish community that don't already have public accesses, according to Dean Beck, supervisor of the DNR's Glenwood Area Fisheries.

Notable exceptions, he said, include Lake Darling, Lake Jessie, Lake Ina, Spring Lake, Lake Charlie and North Union, Stoney and Lottie between Brophy and Cowdry lakes.

Currently, lakes that don't have public accesses are less than 150 acres in size and are too shallow to consistently overwinter game fish, Beck said. The majority of the bigger lakes likely already have at least one public access in place.

He added that many of the lakes within Douglas County are interconnected anyway so there are ways to access them. If the idea of the moratorium is to actually prevent access, Beck questions how it can be done.

"I have mixed feelings about this," he said. "But I do understand their feelings and concerns."

The last public access put in on a Douglas County lake was about five years ago on Lake Blackwell.

Beck said the DNR has a priority list for public accesses it would like to build. One of the lakes in Douglas County the DNR has on its list is Lake Darling, which currently does not have a public access. Although, he noted that it is accessible to the public through other ways.

Carl Towley with the Lake Darling Area Association said the association supports any legislation delaying construction of new lake access ramps, which would allow the DNR more time to draft comprehensive aquatic invasive species guidelines.

He suggested that the DNR look closely at what other states, such as Colorado, Arizona and Idaho, are doing to combat the issue of invasive species, specifically zebra mussels.

In Colorado, for instance, all boats entering or exiting known infested lakes must submit to a detailed boat inspection. And all out-of-state boats must submit to a state certified boat inspection prior to launching in any Colorado lake or reservoir.

In Idaho, authorities enforce mandatory boat and trailer inspections at 15 major highway stations and all vehicles towing boats must stop for an inspection by the State Department of Agriculture.

The main boat ramps in Arizona are closed outside of the inspection hours of 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and violations could result in a court appearance and up to a $5,000 fine.

Beck said the push right now for public accesses is to put them in bigger lakes around the state, such as Rainy Lake or Lake of the Woods.

The DNR has also looked at putting additional accesses on three Douglas County lakes - Miltona, Ida and Big Chippewa, Beck said.

One of the reasons the DNR pushes to install public accesses is because state law prevents the DNR from stocking a lake with fish if it doesn't have a public access - although there have been exceptions to this rule as Lake Darling has been stocked in the past.

Garry Leaf, executive director of Sportsmen for Change, thinks the proposed legislation will be a tough sell among fishing enthusiasts in part because invasive species enter lakes in many different ways.

"People who look at it will cast a suspicious eye on lakes that are pushing it," he said. "Are they really against invasive species or are they trying to keep the public off their lake?"

Andrew Tellijohn, State Capitol Bureau, contributed to this story.