Funding proposed for exotic species research center at U of M

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol reporter

Funding for a new aquatic invasive species research center at the University of Minnesota (U of M) is being pushed at the State Capitol.

“We’re in a war,” said U of M Professor Peter Sorensen, an exotic species expert and researcher, of Minnesota staying ahead of the creeping advances of Asian carp, zebra mussels and other exotics.

Senate Republicans are proposing a $1 million in bonding and channeling about $3 million in Legacy Amendment and state lottery funding towards establishment of the center — perhaps the first at a public university, Sorensen said.

U of M President Eric Kaler styled the creation of the center as a “game changer” in terms of dealing with the state’s ecology.

Its creation may have gained additional impetus by the recent catches of commercial fisherman on the Mississippi River near Winona who brought to the surface a silver and bighead Asian carp.

Recent Department of Natural Resources (DNR) collection of water samples from the Mississippi have shown positive DNA hits for silver Asian carp in the Mississippi as far north as the Coon Rapids dam.

The St. Croix River has yielded similar positive test results.

But at today’s (March 8) Capitol press conference, Sorensen indicated there’s still time to mount a counter attack against the advancing exotics.

“It’s not too late to do something about invasive species,” he said.

Still, Sorensen, whose research specialty is the common carp, spoke of a hard challenge ahead.

Indeed, with the exception of efforts to the control the sea lamprey in the Great Lakes, the history of combating exotic species does not glitter with successes, he said.

But every species has a weakness, Sorensen said.

The proposed bonding would be used to improve the research facility, which will operate in partnership with the College of Science and Engineering, the College of Biological Sciences, the College of Veterinary Medicine, the DNR and others.

They want to make sure exotic species can’t escape from the lab, Sorensen said.

He spoke of a global search for researchers to staff the center — scientists with the needed expertise are not superabundant, he said.

It will take time to assemble the team, time to upgrade the facility, he said.

It’s estimated the center would need about $1 million a year in ongoing funding.

Sorensen credits the DNR with taking appropriate steps in slowing down the advance of exotic species.

He mentioned the zebra mussel as an exotic of high interest to the center.

Senate Environment and Natural Resource Committee Chairman Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, expressed a commitment to continual exotic species research funding.

“We can’t just set this up and walk away from it,” he said.