Points North: Getting Dizzy Over AIS Rules

Shawn shares his perspective on new AIS rules
Shawn shares his perspective on new AIS rules

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Sometimes the world spins so fast it just makes you dizzy. Just a couple of weeks ago, my neighbor Floyd stopped by the office and gave me three decals listing the rules for preventing the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS). Floyd had read my recent column about how the state was requiring the decal to be displayed on all watercraft by 2013 under penalty of law. He’d scrounged up a handful of the hard-to-find stickers and was doing his level best to pass them out to every boat owner he knew.

It was an admirable task, but all in vain. Last week, the Minnesota DNR announced the new decals are now obsolete. The State Legislature recently passed more stringent AIS rules. Apparently, forcing everyone who owned anything from a duck boat to a floatplane to paste a sticker on their craft wasn’t enough to “educate” the populace about AIS laws. The new law, which goes into effect in 2015, requires anyone who transports watercraft or water-related equipment with a trailer to complete an online AIS education course. After completing the course, the person will receive a decal that must be placed on their trailer, certifying they have taken the course.

Now, for a little perspective. Minnesota has over 800,000 licensed watercraft. This doesn’t count nonresident boaters who visit or pass through the state, all of whom will be required to get online education and the trailer sticker to prove they “graduated.” Bear in mind the state requires no education to pilot the boat that is resting on the trailer, nor are you required to take a course about the life-saving benefits of wearing a personal flotation device. Apparently carp and clam control are more important to the state of Minnesota than basic public safety.

Some argue new invasive species such as Asian carp and zebra mussels pose such a great environmental risk to Minnesota waters that drastic measures are necessary. Perhaps that’s why the Legislature also doubled the fines for AIS “crimes” such as forgetting to pull the drain plug from your boat, which went from $50 to $100. Boaters visiting public accesses at popular lakes this summer can expect to encounter new boat inspectors who will check to make sure your drain plug is pulled and you’ve picked the weeds from your trailer.

While state officials insist the new laws won’t lead to heavy-handed enforcement, they have said the inspections will give the state an opportunity to check you out for other violations. Hunters and anglers have been down the mandatory inspection path many times before. You may remember the days when conservation officers maintained roadblocks on busy highways to search vehicles and gear for illegal game and fish. Or perhaps you have memories of the era when conservation officers could enter a fish house on a frozen lake without knocking. Then there were the infamous DUI checkpoints of the 1990s.

While corralling everyone and looking for violations may allow officers to write a few more tickets, many law-abiding citizens don’t appreciate being pulled over as a suspect just because they happened to be driving on a public road. A musty old document called the Constitution frowns upon such tactics, too. This time, the invasive species police say the Constitution is on their side. This observer wonders which are more invasive: the carp and clams or the cops who are looking for them.

It is important to remember the DNR and its conservation officers did not make the AIS laws, but have the duty to enforce them. Our legislators, on the other hand, are responsible for the laws they make—and unmake. Why did they pass a law that required printing hundreds of thousands of decals at taxpayer expense, then write a different law and toss out last year’s law—and the decals—before it even took effect? If last year’s law was that bad, why was it passed in the first place? And how do we know this year’s new law is any better?

I never got around to placing the decals on my boat and canoes. The DNR says you can stick them on your boats anyway as a reminder. Frankly, I’d rather forget about a law that is no more. I’ll probably take my time getting around to the new online test as well. After all, it isn’t required until 2015. The way the world spins in St. Paul, that leaves plenty of time for our dizzy Legislature to change the AIS rules yet again.

Airdate: May 11, 2012

Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources via Flickr.

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