Column: Put time on the water to good use this summer

March 09, 2019

Get free training to become a volunteer AIS Detector

“So much of Minnesota’s culture and recreation is based around the water and enjoying our lakes and rivers,” says Dan Larkin, an Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist with the University of Minnesota. “And so, aquatic invasive species and other threats to those habitats really affect people personally.”

Over the past ten years, the number of local lakes infested by aquatic invasive species (AIS) has steadily risen, despite the efforts of state and local agencies. Zebra mussels, which were once limited to the lower stretch of the St. Croix River, have now established in White Bear Lake and Forest Lake. Eurasian water-milfoil is now found in more than a dozen popular lakes, including Bald Eagle, Big Marine, Bone (Scandia), Chisago Chain of Lakes, Clear (Forest Lake), Elmo, Forest, White Bear, and the Tri-Lakes of Demontreville, Jane and Olson. These AIS can cause a domino-effect, impacting everything from water clarity, to fish survival, to swimming and boating conditions.

Since 2015, the Minnesota legislature has provided annual funding to counties in Minnesota for AIS prevention activities, including watercraft inspections, public education, and monitoring to catch new infestations early on before they get established. The Minnesota DNR also conducts watercraft inspections, implements a mandatory training program for lake service providers (such as marinas, dock installers, and boat rental companies), and tracks new infestations across the state. Though state and local partners are working hard, the scale of effort required to make a difference is far larger than the amount of funding available. “There are over 13 million surface acres of water in Minnesota,” explains Megan Weber, an Extension Specialist who works with Larkin at the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center (MAISRC). “And, there are a limited number of paid professionals to do AIS work.”

This spring, MAISRC will offer an AIS Detectors course, designed to train volunteers around the state to help in the battle against AIS. “We’re increasing the capacity of everyday Minnesotans to get involved in responding to this challenge,” says Larkin. “We want them to be the ‘eyes on the water.’”

AIS Detectors learn principles of basic aquatic ecology, AIS identification, impacts and biology, Minnesota rules and regulations, preventing the spread of AIS, and reporting. The course is taught through on-line coursework and one in-person session, offered on: Friday, May 3 in Arden Hills; Saturday, May 4 in Farmington; Friday, May 17 in Willmar; Friday, June 7 in Backus; or Saturday, June 8 in Fergus Falls.

Locally, Washington County will pay for residents to get trained as AIS Detectors (normally $195 per person). Registration covers unlimited access to the online course, a printed companion for the online training, the full-day in-person workshop (including refreshments and lunch), a copy of the new AIS identification field guide, and networking opportunities with other AIS Detectors and experts. The county is particularly interested in finding volunteers to help monitor lakes that are not yet infested, including: Big and Little Carnelian, Edith, Square, South and North Twin, and Lily.

Statewide, more than 200 volunteers have been trained as AIS Detectors since the program began in 2017. This includes 10 trained AIS Detectors in Washington County. Local volunteers have logged 163 hours of time on activities including conducting surveys on area lakes, building aquatic plant sampling rakes, sharing information at community events, and talking to neighbors and fellow lake-users.

Many AIS Detectors view their volunteer efforts as a way to put their many hours spent on or near the water to good use. Stephan Long, an AIS Detector in greater Minnesota explains his motivation simply, “The way we look at it is, this is our lake and this is our legacy.”

:earn more about the AIS Detectors program. Washington County will cover the cost of training for local residents. Contact Angie Hong for registration details: [email protected] or 651-330-8220 x.35.

Learn more about AIS in Minnesota, find certified providers, and see a map of infested waters at: