At the Minnesota Invasive Species Conference last month, I was chatting with a colleague from Wisconsin about aquatic invasive species (AIS) concerns in Lake Minnetonka. We were talking about immediate concerns – many of which I have illustrated in this column – and he asked me “what do you think Lake Minnetonka will be like in 500 years?” His point was, we sometimes get too close to our topic, so taking a longer perspective can be useful.
Here I will give my thoughts about what Lake Minnetonka will look like in 5, 50 and 500 years – in other words the near future, over a career or about two generations and a long time from now.
With respect to AIS concern in Lake Minnetonka, I have argued that we have two immediate concerns – we can and should do more to control AIS now in the lake and we are woefully underprepared and under-protected to keep new AIS from getting into the lake. I have focused on a very short planning horizon, which arguably makes sense since many AIS are at our doorstep.
I have reasonably well covered the 5-year horizon already in this column. Briefly, through our Three Bay milfoil control project and our Milfoil-Free Minnetonka campaign, we have developed plans, and have begun to implement some of them. We have also pointed out where there are deficiencies in our actions and have identified plans, program, policies or practices to address these. Simply, the vision of the Lake Minnetonka Association is to make Lake Minnetonka milfoil (and AIS) free.
I see that in 50 years, Lake Minnetonka could go in one of two directions. If we take the AIS threat seriously and make investments in protection and control efforts, I think we can keep many potential new AIS out of the lake, we can keep milfoil and curlyleaf pondweed in check and keep Lake Minnetonka healthy. This squares with the vision of the Lake Minnetonka Association.
If do not take the threat of AIS seriously and do not make concomitant investments and policy changes, I think there will be dozens of new AIS in the lake, which singly and in combination, will have serious adverse impacts on the lake’s fishery, water quality and overall health. This will profoundly affect the beauty and recreational enjoyment of the lake.
It is a stretch to think out to 500 years. Yikes, it has been 500 years since Columbus’ voyage. Given that the nature and magnitude of changes has been and will continue to accelerate, this is an incredible time span to contemplate. I think regardless of what we do today or even in 50 years, AIS will become a cosmopolitan issue that will have likely played itself to some logical endpoint. As well, technologies for controlling or mitigating adverse effects will likely be developed so we can better manage and cope. History shows there is indeed a rational basis to expect optimism – life spans continue to increase, health is better, we are more productive, etc. There are certainly problems, but as a society we are much better off on most ways compared to 500 years ago – although I am not sure being tethered to my cell phone is always a good thing.
What we really ought to be concerned about and focused on then, should be a planning horizon spanning to at least the next 50 years. In that context, we have immediate and mid-range concerns that, in the view of the Lake Minnetonka Association, require serious attention and investment – the sooner the better. Lacking this attention, we fear Lake Minnetonka’s value to the community will be diminished for the foreseeable future.