What's all the fuss over those shoreline weeds?
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) growing emphasis on maintaining and improving fish habitat provides a broad framework to guide policies and practices. But where the rubber really meets the road is where the water meets the land - and most of that is private property.
That means much of the responsibility for maintaining healthy fisheries falls to lakeshore owners and the guidance of the DNR's Aquatic Plant Management program (APM).
The APM program sets standards for the management of aquatic vegetation and establishes permit requirements for removing plants growing below the ordinary high water line. It works to strike a balance between preserving aquatic vegetation and allowing lakeshore property owners reasonable access to and use of the water.
"Some folks wonder what's the fuss over all those weeds along their shoreline," said Sean Sisler, DNR metro area APM specialist. "But a weed to one person is, to a fish, a home, a nursery and a grocery store. Get rid of all the 'weeds' and you're also eliminating what the fish need to survive and thrive."
Many of Minnesota's most sought-after fish species depend heavily on aquatic vegetation throughout their life histories. Yellow perch, northern pike, muskellunge, panfish, and bass all depend on aquatic vegetation to provide food, spawning habitat, and nursery areas. Juvenile fish of most species feed on small crustaceans and insects that are abundant in stands of aquatic vegetation. Waterfowl, frogs, muskrats and numerous other critters also rely on shoreline plants for habitat.
But the value of healthy aquatic vegetation extends beyond fish and wildlife. Aquatic plants help reduce erosion from wind and waves. Their roots stabilize shoreline. They improve water quality by preventing the re-suspension of lake sediment and by taking up nutrients that can cause algae blooms.
Because of their value to a lake's ecosystem, aquatic plants growing in public waters are considered state property under Minnesota law, and their removal is regulated.
Lakeshore property owners generally may clear up to 2,500 square feet of submerged vegetation (e.g. coontail and elodea) to allow for boat docking or a swimming area, provided the area cleared extends no more than 50 feet along the shoreline, or one-half the shoreline, whichever is less. A boat channel 15 feet wide may be cleared through floating leaf vegetation (e.g. waterlilies) to allow boaters to reach open water.
Any removal of emergent vegetation, such as cattails or bulrushes, requires a permit, as does the application of any chemical herbicide or the use of an automated mechanical plant control device, such as a weedroller.
Keep in mind, too, that the aquatic plant regulations cover anything growing below the ordinary high water line, even if, as is now the case in some areas, water levels are low and shoreline is exposed. More information is available at www.mndnr.gov.
"The littoral zone, or area where plants grow, can be a small part of some lakes, but it's critical to the health of all lakes," Sisler said. "Lakeshore owners who care about clean water and good fishing should try to work with nature, rather than against it."