Earlier this summer starry stonewort was found at the end of Steamboat Bay in front of Anderson’s Cove Resort. The area encompasses about five acres of water and is on the end of the wild rice area.

For four days last week, the Aquatic Plant Management LLC., from Wisconsin, was in the infested area of the water using the diver-assisted suction harvesting DASH technique to remove the aquatic invasive species.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Cass County, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and Leech Lake Association are working together to manage the area of starry stonewort that was discovered back in July. The DNR holds the permit, the Tribe the contract and the infested water is in Cass County.

Dana Gutzmann, an aquatic invasive species lake technician with Cass County, explained that a diver goes into the water and pulls the starry stonewort plant out of the sediment and feeds it into the vacuum where it is filtered into the pontoon boat and the water returned to the lake. The (removed plant) algae is put into a bag.

Gutzmann said it’s a slow process and covers about an acre day. The team, which consists of one diver who stays in the water for about three hours, and two people on boat, began the extraction at 8 a.m. each day and went to about 4 p.m.

Nicole Kovar, also an aquatic invasive species specialist with the DNR, said this is the only area on the lake they are aware of where the non-native large algae is located, and believes it got here by human traffic, which is the No. 1 way that invasive species are spread.

“The fact that we have lakes up in this area with starry increases [the risk] that all the lakes could get it,” Kovar said.

In Beltrami alone a number of lakes have starry, including Upper Red Lake. This is why it’s important to clean, drain and dry your boat, and dispose of live bait and bait water to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.

Starry stonewort is so dense it reduces the diversity of aquatic plants in a lake. It also impedes movement of fish and impacts spawning activity of some fish, and if it grows near the water surface can reduce water flow and make recreational activities difficult.

“As with all invasive species, they have a survival tactic that allows them to reproduce quicker and out-compete. From what we’ve seen in other lakes, it’s tending to do that,” Kovar said.

The removal of starry algae is difficult because the abundant bulbils can dislodge if disturbed, and will sprout new individuals.

Kovar said the suction harvesting dash technique removes the bulbils. “The hope is next year the reproductive part of it won’t sprout new bulbils. We won’t get it all out, but reducing the biomass is the goal. Preventing the spread outward from here is a goal, along with protecting the wild rice.”

Next spring the area will be checked to see how successful the suction harvesting dash technique, which is the most ecologically friendly way to get rid of starry stonewort, has worked.

“We have to see how effective this was, see how much there is in the rice, how much comes back and reevaluate tools available,” Kovar stated.

Gutzmann said AIS detectors are needed now more than ever. The Association of Cass County Lakes is teaming up ​with Cass AIS Program to offer in-person courses for anyone in the county who want to become a detector.

“That’s important for Leech Lake because we want to make sure that starry is just here. We’ve been around the lake and searched the lake, but it is a giant lake, so the more trained detectors we have around the lake the better. That is for every lake in Cass County. The earlier you find something like starry stonewort, the better.”

“Even if they’re not a trained detector, just reporting something suspicious is so helpful because we have so much water to check. We are the only AIS people in the region, and we can’t do it by ourselves,” Kovar added.

If you are interested in taking the AIS Detector course you can email Dana Gutzmann for more information at dana.gutzmann@co.cass.mn.us

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