Jet Skis Are Not The Only Invasive Non-Native Species in North Shore Lakes

A Rusty Crayfish caught

From Zebra Mussels to Eurasian Watermilfoil and Rusty Crayfish, there are many plants and creatures in the waters of our ten thousand lakes that have invaded. Some are benign, but others cause enormous negative changes in lakeshores, sport fishing, and other water-based activities. Not to mention public health.

The fight against these invaders is led by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Cook County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is at the frontline. Cook County first received funding for its aquatic invasive species (AIS) efforts from the DNR in 2014.

In 2015, with an AIS Prevention Plan underway, Amanda Weberg was retained by the county as its AIS Coordinator. The county put the AIS program under the SWCD in 2020 and Weberg’s status was changed from independent contractor to part-time employee, working up to 25 hours per week.

“The mission of the AIS Prevention Plan is to limit or prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species,” Weberg said. “Cook County is fortunate to have minimal AIS infestation, making the focus on prevention much easier than management of infestations,” she added.

Outreach and education are the primary strategies of the SWCD’s AIS efforts. Watercraft inspectors are deployed at boat landings at various lakes in the county during the liquid water season. “The inspection program is first and foremost an outreach opportunity. Weberg said that they help spread accurate prevention messages and AIS regulations and laws to boaters,” Weberg said.

Inspectors must complete training from the DNR and sign an agreement outlining their duties and responsibilities prior to conducting inspections.

Spiny water fleas and rusty crayfish are the dominant AIS creatures in Cook County. There is no way to eradicate the little guys, so keeping them from spreading to other lakes is a priority. Preventing other species from getting here is also part of the strategy. “Prevention will always be more cost-efficient and effective than management,” Weberg said.

It is illegal to transport prohibited invasive species and lake or river water from one body of water to another, knowingly or not. Just transporting water carries a fine that starts at $100. Bringing Zebra Mussels into a lake or river may bring a misdemeanor charge with a fine of $500.

“Invasive species thrive because they have no natural predators to check population growth,” Weberg said. “They are very successful at exploiting the natural resources and reproducing exponentially.”

A Wisconsin native, Weberg moved to Cook County in 2013. Her BA is from the University of Wisconsin--Superior with a double major in Biology and German with a minor in Chemistry. Weberg says she has always been interested in learning about the organisms that live underwater. “Knowing that working in Marine Biology was not feasible if I lived in the Midwest, I focused on aquatic biology work,” she said.

Amanda Weberg

Aquatics runs in the family. Weberg’s husband Matt is the interim Grand Marais Fisheries Supervisor for the DNR. Her part-time status at SWCD allows her to spend more time with her young son. The family enjoys spending time together outdoors. Weberg teaches yoga at the Cook County YMCA and is active in some nonprofit boards in the county.

In addition to cleaning boats, boots, and tackle when moving from one body of water to another, Weberg wants you to know that there is always hope for the battle with AIS. “The AIS work being done is slowing the spread,” she says.