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DNR struggles to keep up with zebra mussel spread

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EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. (AP) — Inspectors for Minnesota's aquatic invasive species program say they have struggled against limited resources as they try to curb the growing invasion of zebra mussels in the state's lakes this summer.

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The invasive species, which attaches to hard surfaces like boats and docks in fresh water and has a detrimental effect on native species, has infested more than 60 lakes across the state, Minnesota Public Radio News reported Monday (http://bit.ly/PfGM0b ). While Minnesota has about 3,000 public access points to lakes and rivers, the Department of Natural Resources has only 118 inspectors charged with patrolling for invasive species.

Agency officials said about 20 percent of boaters checked are in violation of laws aimed at preventing invasive species. That includes boats where owners have failed to pull plugs, drained water or removed weeds.

DNR Regional Supervisor Bruce Anspach said the agency has made progress in building awareness among boaters of preventing the spread of invasive species.

"I've been really impressed with the level of cooperation I see from the public, especially the fishing community," said Karl Koenig, who is one of 23 DNR aquatic invasive species inspectors who cover thousands of lakes and rivers in the west central and northwest parts of the state.

Regional supervisor Bruce Anspach said he hoped to have 30 inspectors in his region this summer, but that seven positions still are unfilled. The agency has hired 118 statewide this year after initially setting a goal of 150.

Inspectors can't issue citations, but their main goal is to spread awareness and teach people to search for the parasite themselves.

Anspach said he's also seen more boaters familiar with proper steps to take in response. He said few people any longer claim ignorance of invasive species regulations.

"It's maybe one in a hundred," Anspach said. "Three years ago it was 10 out of 20; now a lot of people know what to do. It's just a matter of them getting in the habit of doing it."

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mpr.org

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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