Zebra Mussel infested pontoon highlights ANS danger to Lake Sakakawea

Jason Matthews

BISMARK – Earlier this month a zebra mussel infested pontoon was stopped from entering Lake Audubon near Coleharbor, North Dakota. Lake Audubon is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is fed by waters from adjacent Lake Sakakawea, and is home to the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge. The inspection and subsequent decontamination by North Dakota Game & Fish Department officials prevented the introduction of the invasive aquatic nuisance species (ANS) into the lake but highlights a real and growing threat.

In response to the news, Terry Fleck, chairman of the Friends of Lake Sakakawea, released the following statement on behalf of the organization:

“We got lucky this time but luck is not a strategy and time is not on our side. Aquatic Nuisance Species is the greatest threat facing North Dakota’s waterways. Other states, most notably our neighbors in Minnesota and Montana, are taking proactive and preventative steps with state mandated inspections, check points, and costly fines. The Friends of Lake Sakakawea has long advocated for the State of North Dakota to do the same. Instead, North Dakota is relying too much on the honor system.

Created in 1954 with the completion of the construction of the Garrison Dam, Lake Sakakawea is the nation’s second largest man-made lake, the third by volume, and one of North America’s premier fishing destinations. The lake hosts more than 35 recreation sites and offers more miles of shoreline than the California Pacific Coast. It provides flood control, irrigation, hydroelectric power, and supports municipal water systems for tens of thousands of North Dakotans. Recreation on Lake Sakakawea supports approximately 1,000 jobs and generates more than $140 million in visitor spending.

“We are grateful for what the North Dakota Game and Fish Department is doing to deal with this threat. Unfortunately, they are working with limited staff and resources. It takes state and federal policymakers and leaders to make ANS a priority and to allocate the funds and personnel necessary to combat ANS. Unfortunately, this is not the case. As a result, our fisheries, wildlife habitats, a multi-million-dollar recreation industry, the municipal water systems of central and western North Dakota communities, and the hydro-electric capabilities of Garrison Dam are being needlessly threatened.

“Until state and federal leaders take action, Lake Sakakawea and other North Dakota lakes and rivers are vulnerable. It is up to all anglers and boaters to inspect watercraft and take action to protect ‘North Dakota’s Great Lake.’ So far, we’ve all been doing our part. It’s well past time for state and federal leaders to do theirs.”  

About Lake Sakakawea: Created in 1954 with the completion of the construction of the Garrison Dam, Lake Sakakawea is the nation’s second largest man-made lake, the third by volume, and one of North America’s premier fishing destinations. The lake hosts more than 35 recreation sites and offers more miles of shoreline than the California Pacific Coast. It provides flood control, irrigation, hydroelectric power, and supports municipal water systems for tens of thousands of North Dakotans. Recreation on Lake Sakakawea supports approximately 1,000 jobs and generates more than $140 million in visitor spending.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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