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Beth Kallestad column: Be watchful to avoid aquatic hitchhikers

My parents always told me it was dangerous to hitchhike and that when I was the driver I shouldn't pick up anyone who was hitchhiking -- sound advice that I have heeded.

With spring in Minnesota comes the armada of boats to our lakes. For those who are part of this crew, I'm asking you to follow my parent's advice as well -- don't pick up hitchhikers.

Now in this case I'm not referring to people standing on the roadside with a thumb out, but rather a more insidious group referred to as aquatic invasive species or AIS for short.

According to the DNR, when nonnative species cause ecological or economic problems, they are termed "invasive" or "harmful exotic species."

AIS are both plants and animals.

When there are rapid increases in their populations they disrupt native communities and crowd out native species.

In some cases, they cause problems for recreation such as when AIS plants get tangled in boat propellers.

The list of AIS is made up of such culprits as curly-leaf pondweed, Eurasian watermilfoil, purple loosestrife, flowering rush, zebra mussels, common carp, the spiny water flea and others.

Curly-leaf pondweed and Eurasian watermilfoil are two common AIS in our watershed lakes.

We haven't seen the zebra mussels yet, but they aren't far away having been found in Prior Lake.

So how do we avoid picking up these hitchhikers?

• Inspect your boat, trailer and equipment and remove visible aquatic plants, animals and mud before leaving the water access.

• Drain water from your boat, motor, bilge, live wells and bait containers before leaving the water access.

• Spray, rinse or dry boats and recreational equipment to remove or kill species that were not visible when leaving a water body.

• Dispose of unwanted bait and other animals or aquatic plants in the trash.

• Report new sightings of aquatic invasive species to the DNR.

Remember, it's up to you to stop aquatic hitchhikers! Questions or thoughts, give me a call at the Cannon River Watershed Partnership at (507) 786-8400.