West Central Minnesota Anglers Ready To Take On Aquatic Invasive Species

Submitted/ There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. Christine Hokkala-Kuhns, AIS specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, recently led a training session for 28 volunteers from local fishing clubs to show how to inspect boats for the unwanted hitchhikers.

WILLMAR – It takes smarts to catch fish.  

And that is exactly what members of area fishing clubs are bringing to the table in the effort to keep Aquatic Invasive Species out of local waters.

Twenty-eight anglers from seven different fishing clubs and organizations joined April 24 in Willmar for training. They learned how to inspect boats for invasive species, how to identify them and the laws involved. They are now volunteer educators, ready to show other anglers how they can inspect their own watercraft.

They are also sending the message that local anglers remain committed to the fight against the spread of invasive species.

“We decided we were going to participate a little more in the battle, share in the effort,’’ said Dean Drexler, who helped organize the training. Drexler, who is with the West Central Bassmasters, invited fishing enthusiasts from the Little Crow Anglers and other clubs in the area, including those from the Paynesville and New Richmond areas.

Christine Hokkala-Kuhns, a watercraft inspector with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Park Rapids, led the training. She took volunteers through the paces on how to inspect a boat. She offered lots of tips too. It’s important to lower the boat motor and let the water drain when leaving a lake, something that is easy to forget. She also emphasized the importance of looking for water (and mud) in the not so obvious places, such as with the anchor and rope.

Tribune file photo/ These zebra mussels cover a rock pulled from Green Lake. Keeping these and other invasive species from other, neighboring lakes for as long as possible is well worth the effort.

Hokkala-Kuhns said she and other AIS specialists in the DNR host a number of training sessions for interested groups across the state. She told the Tribune that interest is really growing this year.

“It was really good to see the fishermen getting together and taking the initiative to be proactive,’’ said Skip Wright, regional manager, ecological and water resources, with the DNR in New London.  

Drexler said he’s encouraged too by the local interest, and by the DNR’s willingness to train volunteers. The more people that know what it takes to stop the spread of the invasive species, the better, he noted.

Kandiyohi County doubling its efforts

To be sure, Kandiyohi County remains as committed as ever to enlisting everyone’s support in stopping the spread of invasive species. Stephanie Felt, AIS coordinator for the county, said the county is hoping to double the number of inspectors, from 11 to 22, able to monitor public accesses on the lakes this summer.

The county is also employing technology for the effort. It is offering a free smartphone app, Aquahunter, that allows users to snap photos of any suspicious plant or critter. The photos can be uploaded to the app and checked by Felt and others trained to identify invasive species.

The county is also using Internet Landing Installed Device Sensors at the Joseph Brown access on Green Lake and accesses on George, Florida and Games Lakes. The devices play an audio prompt reminding motorists to inspect their boats, and records a video of boats entering and leaving the lake.  

Free AIS training available

The county is also hosting an AIS volunteer training session for all interested persons. It will be held at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 3.

There is no cost to attend and lunch will be served starting at 11:30 a.m.

AIS volunteer training will cover aquatic invasive species identification, watercraft inspection, current laws, and requirements of the DNR’s volunteer program.

Contact Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force Coordinator, Stephanie Felt, at 320-214-6730 or Stephanie.felt@kcmn.us to reserve a spot by Friday, May 26.

Tribune file photo/ Everyone has a role to play in protecting our water resources. A mother and her child enjoy the waters of Green Lake in this Tribune file photo