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Otter Tail County approved the hiring of up to 30 watercraft inspectors for the Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force. The county is hoping to prevent any new invasive species from entering the lakes and rivers of the area. The positions will be advertised later in February. Journal File photo.

Lake goers can expect to see a larger presence of watercraft inspectors this summer. The Otter Tail County Board approved the hiring of 30 positions for watercraft inspectors for 2018. The Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force will be doing what they can to fill these positions and prevent the spread of invasive species in the county lakes and rivers.

“Really one of the main drivers of this desire to increase our staff was we have done well with keeping new invasive species out of Otter Tail County and we want to continue to do that,” said Spencer McGrew, aquatic invasive species specialist of Otter Tail County.

According to McGrew, the 30 positions will consist of full-time and part-time options.

Marsha Bowman, office administrator of Land and Resources, said the AIS program started in 2012 with just two inspectors and it has expanded over the years. In past years, there was a maximum of 16 watercraft inspectors, about half the number of positions open for this year.

“It’s about having a presence out there at the lake accesses and having as many watercraft inspectors as possible,” Bowman said. “They will be there to educate the public, increase awareness and complete inspections to ensure compliance.”

Although there have been no new invasive species introduced in Otter Tail County since the start of the program, McGrew said there have been outbreaks of invasive species across the state. These outbreaks have caused some concern within the AIS Task Force and McGrew said they want to keep the species out and get ahead of the spread while they can.

“The invasive species that is causing the most alarm is the invasive algae, starry stonewort,” McGrew said. “It was first detected in the state in 2015 near the Paynesville area at a lake called Lake Koronis.”

In 2017, 11 Minnesota lakes were confirmed to be infested with starry stonewort.

While the watercraft inspectors will check for all invasive species, they will also be looking for signs of zebra mussels.

“The county has been dealing with zebra mussels for a number of years,” McGrew said.

Zebra mussels can spread from water moving downstream, pulling them down to infest other bodies of water. McGrew said that is what happened when Otter Tail River was infested with zebra mussels from Otter Tail Lake.

For those who are interested in being a watercraft inspector, McGrew said they are looking for people with good people skills, who are friendly with the public and like educating others. Applicants must be 18 years old before hire and will be required to pass DNR training for the position. No prior experience is needed.

“We will start advertising the 30 openings the middle or end of February,” Bowman said. “We are working with human resources on that right now and once the positions are posted, they will be available on the county’s website.”

Bowman said human resources will also pick sites to advertise the positions that they believe will draw in applicants, including contacting different colleges. Bowman said internship credits may be available for college students who wish to apply. 

“Really, it’s all about prevention and education,” McGrew said. “The idea is that once someone is taught what the law is and what they should be doing and best practices, that they follow that whether an inspector is there, it’s 1 p.m. or a.m. and they are fishing or they travel to North Dakota or Manitoba. People should be following the same procedures wherever they are.”

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