DNR pilot looks for lakeshore violations, illegal activity
Area lakeshore owners who occasionally borrow their neighbor’s weed roller to clear out the aquatic vegetation in the water around their dock and swimming beach, take heed.
Unless you have the proper Minnesota Department of Natural Resources permit to do so, using a weed roller is a punishable offense — and if you think no one is going to find out, think again.
Spotting un-permitted weed rollers and other lakeshore usage and boating violations is all in a day’s work for DNR Conservation Officer Jason Jensen of Brainerd, who logs dozens of hours a week in the cockpit of his Cessna Skywagon 185, as a pilot with the DNR’s enforcement division.
A 22-year DNR veteran, Jensen obtained his pilot’s license in 2002.
“I was in the field for quite a few years before I got into flying,” Jensen says. But a lifelong interest in aviation led him to an eventual career change.
“I have an uncle who’s a pilot here in Perham, and spending time in the plane with him really whetted my appetite for flying,” Jensen said. “I realized this (being a DNR pilot) is a great way to mix the two professions of natural resources law enforcement and aviation.”
Jensen stopped at the Detroit Lakes Airport last Friday during a flight to check for aquatic plant management (APM) violations on area lakes, and volunteered to take a Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter up for a glimpse at what he does.
“The majority of our flying is for research, wildlife surveys and law enforcement missions,” he said.
On law enforcement missions, “we’re looking for everything from illegal fishing and hunting activity to habitat destruction and illegal use of recreational vehicles,” Jensen added.
Part of his job is also assisting DNR researchers with wildlife counts.
“Today I’m doing an aerial overview of Becker County, looking for illegal shoreline structures, removal of aquatic vegetation without a permit and so forth,” he said Friday.
“There is a machine people can use (to remove aquatic vegetation) that’s called a weed roller,” Jensen continued. “It’s a big metal tube, powered on shore, that that rolls along the bottom of a lake and uproots any vegetation within its arc.”
Using a weed roller requires a state permit for several reasons, said DNR regional aquatic habitat specialist Robert Ekstrom, Bemidji, who works with Jensen regularly on enforcement issues.
The shallow areas of a lake, near the shoreline, provide essential habitat for young fish, ducks, frogs and other aquatic wildlife, he added.
While lakeshore owners want to have a dock and swimming beach that are well-manicured and accessible for water recreation, that desire must be carefully balanced with the need for healthy fish and wildlife habitat.
“You can’t just go down to the shore and go crazy and take away everything,” Ekstrom said. “That vegetation has value … it’s there for a reason.”
If one person who has a weed roller permit loans the device to his neighbor, and then to another neighbor, the loss of aquatic habitat can be devastating, Ekstrom noted.
“Once it’s gone, getting that habitat back is difficult, if not impossible,” he added. “We need to make sure that habitat base is maintained, so the critters we want to keep there (fish and other native aquatic life) are able to survive.”
Aquatic plants also help keep the shoreline from eroding, and use up nutrients that might otherwise be used by less desirable, invasive, aquatic species.
Maintaining that balance between wildlife habitat and recreational water usage is why the DNR requires a permit for lakeshore owners to legally control aquatic vegetation, Ekstrom said.
Anyone who is interested in obtaining a DNR permit for aquatic vegetation management can find the forms they need on the DNR’s website, www.dnr.state.mn.us, he added.
“Just click on the tab for licenses, permits and violations, and find the specific permit to manage aquatic plants,” said Ekstrom.
Hint: It’s located in the “DNR Water Permits” section. There are also instructions for completing the application process available at the same location.
Jensen said that once he collects the data on possible permitting violations, including GPS coordinates as well as his own notes and photographs, he sends the information to the local DNR office for follow-up.
“There’s an expectation of everyone to follow the law, and we try to ensure that that’s done,” he said. “Aquatic vegetation is very important to (maintaining) both fish habitat and water quality.”
Jensen said he finds his work “challenging, but at the end of the day, rewarding.”
Ekstrom also noted that Jensen can cover a lot more ground from the air than another conservation officer could on foot, which makes his work invaluable to the DNR's enforcement efforts.
Vicki Gerdes, Detroit Lakes Tribune