State develops citizen network of AIS Detectors

WILLMAR, Minn. - Not being the kind of guy who is willing to throw up his hands and say "there's nothing we can do" about aquatic invasive species, Mark Johnson went back to school.He attended a one-day workshop and completed a self-paced, online...
Mark Johnson staffs a booth at the 2017 Minnesota State Fair to help educate the public about aquatic invasive species. A lakeshore resident on Meeker County's Lake Washington, Johnson was among the first to complete the AIS Detectors program offered by the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center and the University of Minnesota Extension. (Photo by Megan Weber)

WILLMAR, Minn. - Not being the kind of guy who is willing to throw up his hands and say "there's nothing we can do" about aquatic invasive species, Mark Johnson went back to school.

He attended a one-day workshop and completed a self-paced, online course to become an AIS Detector as offered by the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center and the University of Minnesota Extension.

As a lakeshore resident and member of the Lake Washington Improvement Association in Dassel, Johnson said he was motivated to learn about aquatic invasive species. He wanted to work on behalf of the lake and educate others on how they can too.

"It is all about education and getting the public the knowledge to stay on top of this,'' said Johnson of how to best combat aquatic invasive species.

An opportunity to join the ranks of citizens like Johnson who are taking on the challenge posed by aquatic invasive species comes to Willmar on May 11. Registration is now open for those interested in joining the volunteer network and science-based training of the AIS Detector program.

"Definitely motivated people. I would say a passionate group,'' said Megan Weber, director of the program, of those who have become AIS Detectors.

Johnson was among the first of 121 citizens who completed the program last year in its inaugural year. Weber said the goal is to increase the number of eyes out there who can help detect AIS as well as educate others about the invasive species.

The program consists of the self-paced, online course and the workshop. The online course must be completed before the workshop.

The course fee is $195, which includes unlimited access to the online course, a printed training manual, the workshop, an AIS identification field guide and networking opportunities.

Weber said Minnesota has roughly 13 million surface acres of water, but only a limited number of professionals who are able to identify aquatic invasive species. Providing more citizens with the knowledge to serve as the eyes on their local waters is important. Early detection provides more opportunity to respond and limit the impact of invasive species, she said.

The trained volunteers also serve to educate the public and help motivate people to take the steps necessary to stop or slow the spread of invasive species. Johnson said he volunteered to staff a booth at last year's State Fair as part of the education effort.

He also points out that there is good reason to take on aquatic invasive species, rather than throwing up one's hands in despair. Six years ago, the Lake Washington Improvement Association began treating the Eurasian watermilfoil. In the last three years, it has not found any evidence of the plant in the lake, despite a practice of sampling a variety of sites every summer.

Johnson said that doesn't mean the lake is free of Eurasian milfoil. But it is being held in check, and if it does show up the lake association is ready.

"We have a plan in place, a vegetation plan for our lake and we're going to be on top of it when it comes back,'' Johnson said.

He encourages everyone motivated to do something on behalf of the waters they love to enroll in the AIS Detectors program. "It is a great program,'' Johnson said.

To learn more and to register, visit www.aisdetectors.org.