Minnesota university trains aquatic invader detectors

A new group of volunteers trained to spot aquatic invasive species is branching out on Minnesota lakes to collect samples, take photos and report back to the Department of Natural Resources.

The more than a dozen volunteers are the latest graduates from the Aquatic Invasive Species program. It's a joint project between the University of Minnesota Extension Service and the Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center.

It can take volunteers sometime to spot the minute differences, said Megan Weber, an educator at the university extension.

"What it comes down to oftentimes is counting these tiny leaflets that come off of each leaf of the plant," she said.

The program has trained 125 detectors so far and hopes to certify more than 100 in six more workshops next year.

Some of the volunteers are lakeshore owners who are concerned about their lake's future.

"I'm concerned about the welfare of the lake and the future of Lake Margaret and the (Gull) chain," said Julie Hepburn. She's been visiting Lake Margaret her whole life. "It's just really sad to see what's happening right now. That's why it's so great to see all these people here."

About 5 percent of the state's lakes are infested with aquatic invasive species. The Department of Natural Resources has only 10 invasive species specialists to cover the state's 13 million surface areas of water.

"There just aren't enough people whose job it is to be out there looking," said Stearns County invasive species coordinator Sue McGuire. "So the local residents, it's really important for them to be able to identify too and be aware of the issues."

Volunteers can use a smartphone app to report invasive species they find. Having more detectors means being able to respond more quickly, which increases the chances of stopping an invasive species' spread throughout a lake, McGuire said.