If people are creatures of habit, then Hennepin County hopes to capitalize on that behavior in the efforts to try to stop the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species in Lake Minnetonka.
In a new pilot program at the North Arm public boat launch in Orono, the county is using lights and new signage to encourage boaters to understand the importance of having their watercraft checked for AIS.
“Our goal was to take this AIS issue and see if we can really do something different using social behavior change and get everybody in the social norm,” said Senior Environmentalist for Hennepin County Environmental Services Tony Brough.
The pilot project, which is funded through the county’s environmental services budget, cost approximately $40,000.
SETTING A SOCIAL NORM
The county partnered with a social marketing and behavior researcher from the University of Minnesota. He helped with wording, colors and advice on displays.
“We really looked at what’s motivating behavior and really moving beyond awareness and focus more on education,” said Hennepin County Environmental Educator Angie Timmons.
Timmons says that research shows that just because people know what they are supposed to do, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll do it.
First, she says they needed change their behavior in the physical space at a boat access. Second she says is the messaging used to try to get around mental barriers.
“What we knew from people is they knew to pull the weeds off their boat but they really sort of missed the draining the water,” Timmons said.
If people think it’s a losing battle — AIS are already in the lake — they think it’s not worth the effort Timmons said. That she said shouldn’t be the case.
“But if you take these steps then you can prevent future invasive species from coming in or moving those invasive species that are here to other lakes,” Timmons said. “We really want to communicate that their efforts make a difference.”
North Arm is the third-busiest landing on Lake Minnetonka, Brough said. The bone of contention has been the “rush” people feel when exiting the lake on busy days. He says the inspection is designed to be quick, but still gives but provides proper inspection.
“We’re finding a better behavior change then trying to give a very detailed sign that most people don’t want to take the time to read,” Brough said.
On a busy day, Brough said there could be as many as 2,000 boats on the lake, and 30 percent of those were launched from public landings.
“We’re trying to take our responsibilities for what we have control over and be a leader in that,” Brough said.
Along with the signs and lighting, the marking on the ground directing people where to go are also an important step. Thermal plastic pavement markings melted on the ground, Brough said, should last for about 10 years.
Previous attempts to boost compliance were mostly focused on more metal signs at the access. Before the installation of the new lights, Brough said there were about 13 different metal signs of various size, most of which were ignored. Eventually all but a couple of the signs were taken down, Brough said, and it confused people more.
KEEPING THE ‘MINNESOTA
NICE’ AT LANDINGS
Also, the pilot program is designed to make people feel welcome, not like they’ve done something wrong before the fact.
“We’re not treating them like they are doing something wrong right away,” Brough said. “They can always know this is going to be free and open to them no matter what time of day you come.”
Since the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is at the access performing the inspections but can’t be there around the clock, Timmons says the program will reinforce the proper procedures.
“Our efforts really are just to create the space here so that when the space isn’t manned (by the DNR) that it’s obvious to people what they should be doing,” Timmons said. “You can’t always have an inspector onsite, that costs a lot of money, and they can’t police everything.”
“Having a structure in place that helps remind people what they should be doing and gives them the opportunity to do the right thing – we know most people don’t want invasive species.”
DNR inspector Richard Rowland says the program is a two-part process.
“Obviously we are here for enforcement, but the important thing is also education,” Rowland said.
He says the program is a good step toward educating the public. And since fines doubled July 1 for AIS violations, he says in conjunction with the pilot program, people will start taking AIS more seriously.
Though the pilot project just began, Brough says it’s been effective, but there’s still room for improvement.
“I even think we can do better, but it’s been working fairly effectively at this point,” Brough said.
After examining data for this boating season, Brough said the program could be expaned to the other county-run landing in Spring Park.
“AIS is a very complicated issue,” Timmons said. “There’s a lot of different people at different levels trying to figure this out, and the county saw a role because we do maintain two boat accesses here and wanted to try something different.”