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Invasive Species in Minnesota--Karl Koenig

As told by Karl Koenig
Paynesville, Minnesota

Story Narrative:

This story was collected as part of a collaborative effort to record the state of American lakes, rivers, and waterways as well an attempt to uncover what water means to Americans. Listen to other stories recorded for the Be Here: Main Street project, a collaboration with the MuseWeb Foundation to record stories from rural America. 

“Hi my name is Karl Koening. I work for Becker County soil and water conservation district as the county's aquatic evasive species and water quality coordinator.

The story I'll share today is about a trip that I took down to central Minnesota in September to meet with lake shore residents there. I was traveling to the twin cities to go to a research symposium at the University of Minnesota aquatic and evasive species research center and I knew that I had to talk to somebody at Lake Coronas about a new aquatic evasive species that was found there the previous year. I got in touch with the lakes association, he put me in touch with a man by the name of Dick Johnson. And he agreed to show me around several sites around the lake.

So, I met with him at a gas station and we got in his car and drove to a couple of places where we could see the starry stonewort infestation in Lake Coronas. And I had never seen this particular species before in a lake and it was interesting to me how dense this algae had come in at this lake. And how it had grown in and started to blow into the shore. Dick had a lot of stories about people who lived around the lake and what they had encountered with it. He wanted to show me this resort, Bugsy's Resort. That's down there, I think it's on the west side of Lake Coronas.

So, we drove over to Bugsy's Resort. And he said, ‘We'll take a look here. There's starry stonewort here.’ And we walked out to a dock and I looked into the water of course and on one side of the dock there was a boat ramp and I could see some of the starry stonewort around the edges of the boat ramp, but it had kind of been cleared out by boats coming and going. Looked around and all the boats were up on the boat lifts. This was on a Sunday. This is a sunny, hot summer day. The boats and pontoons were up on the lifts, it was really kind of abandoned there. I didn't see really anybody at this resort. And we walked over to the end of the dock, over by the boats and pontoons that were up on the lifts, and underneath these lifts it looked like the lake was only three or four inches deep. The starry stonewort was so dense, you couldn't see the bottom of the lake, you couldn't see any other vegetation or anything else besides the starry stonewort growing almost to the surface of the lake.

And Dick said, ‘Folks are having to drop their boats down into the lake and push them out or swim them out beyond this to use the boats.’ I thought to myself, ‘You know, why do I look down under these boats when I walk out onto a dock?’ It's just like a reflexive action to walk out. And I thought, ‘Well, all my life I grew up on the lake, I've lived around public water my whole life. I use docks like this to fish and I would look under the boats to see what fish were under there to try to catch fish. And if a person were to come here and try to do that, try to do that simple thing that I have liked to do since I was three or four years old, just observe fish and wild life at a dock. This particular species of algae at this particular lake, it lead to a situation that just eliminated that opportunity there aren't fish to observe under the docks and lifts. There isn't fishing taking place here. No one's enjoying the stock or using it today. A weekend afternoon in Minnesota.’

And I thought, ‘This is an impact that really goes beyond what I've seen so far with these aquatic evasive species. This is more of a I guess, significant, social, cultural impact." And I also thought, "I don't think we even really understand the benefits we get from public water. Just simple act of looking for fish underneath a boat lift. What did I gain from doing that all my life as a little kid? Did it lead to me establishing a career in conservation and did it lead to me perusing a degree in natural resource conservation?’

I really think we can't say enough about the character building experiences we have when we are just fishing and enjoying ourselves as young people. And for this starry stonewort infestation to interfere with that in any way it just, it got my attention. And I thought, ‘We don't need this stuff clogging up our waterways. We don't need this stuff underneath our boat lifts. We need kids out here looking for fish and wild life, thinking about their place in the world and interacting with this lake.’ This species, from what I could see, is interfering with that.

We traveled around the lake, Dick and I to a couple of other sites. On the opposite end of the lake there was about a 150 I would guess acre patch of this starry stonewort. They had cut a big channel through the middle of it so folks could access the lake and drive through it. And the parking lot was empty. There was one person leaving there who had been fishing. We spoke with him and he said, "Yeah, you know I just don't think we're going to be able to slow this stuff down. It's here and there isn't much we can do about it." And I said, "Well, I'm actually in charge of trying to do something about it up by the lakes in Becker County."

I struggle to be optimistic about it too sometimes but I think the public waters, the lakes and rivers are going to be in some state of degradation in the future. In some cases they're getting better, in some cases they're getting worse but I feel like if I can make some small contribution to preserving them, maybe enhancing them in some ways, well it's worth it. And for all that I've gained from these public waters the enjoyment and I guess inspiration to work and contribute as a kid, I think it's worth it. And I'm going to continue my work I guess to prevent evasive species and to protect public waters.”

Asset ID #3898

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