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Volunteers push for tougher laws after anglers leave tons of trash, waste on ice

President of the Upper Red Lake Area Association says she helped pick up 23 tons of waste this winter alone on and around the popular fishing lake.

ST PAUL, Minn. — It's a problem that reveals itself when ice fishing season ends - anglers leaving garbage behind when they clear off the lakes.

The 'Keep It Clean' campaign has helped pick up some of the mess since 2012, but the trash keeps piling up.

Now, volunteers are pushing legislators to toughen litter laws. Robyn Dwight, the president of the Upper Red Lake Area Association, will testify Wednesday in front of the Minnesota House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee in support of a new bill.

KARE 11 first met Dwight last year after she and Lake Mille Lacs joined the 'Keep It Clean' campaign that started around Lake of the Woods. Since then, another 31 lakes have joined the effort. 

"People litter for all kinds of reasons," said Dwight. "Some do it because they’re lazy, some do it because they don’t come prepared and some it’s by accident." 

Dwight says this winter season alone, she helped pick up 23 tons of waste and more than half of it was toilet bags full of human waste. 

"I’ve always cared about the environment, I’ve been an outdoors person my entire life," said Dwight. "I want that water clean."

The DNR reports the ice fishing, in particular, has exploded, in part, due to a rise in outdoor activities during the pandemic and the growing popularity of "wheelhouses". 

Dwight is also teaming up with Ann Brucciani Lyon who is part of the Mille Lacs Area Community Foundation that also joined the 'Keep It Clean' campaign. 

"Garbage doesn’t belong on the ice, it doesn’t belong under the ice and it doesn’t belong on our shorelines," said Brucciani Lyon. "I think the bill is a start and a step in the right direction."

The bill would make it illegal to leave any trash at all on the surface of state waters and instead be confined to a container. It would also create a group to consider funding more conservation officers and ice and shelter safety programs. The bill has garnered bipartisan support. 

"Keep It Clean is the name of the bill, but I think it resonates with a lot of people," said Republican Rep. Andrew Myers, who serves part of Minnetonka. "If we can keep up with the litter laws and keep our lakes clean, everybody is on board with that."

There are current litter and sewage laws, but they're hard to enforce, in part, Dwight says because people have to be caught in the act. 

Her proposal does include a $25 fine, but more importantly, an education campaign and more infrastructure like winterized dumping stations and holding tanks at resorts to further prevent any trash. 

"We need to respect the water and this is one way that I can with that to get that done," said Dwight.

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