July 29, 2013
By Marie Zhuikov
University of Wisconsin-Superior senior Tucker Lindberg is spending the summer hanging out at boat ramps on Lake Superior. Although he enjoys being around the water, Lindberg is there for a purpose: to talk to boaters about invasive species and to inspect their boats so that they don’t unwittingly spread unwanted plants or animals to the next lake.
Lindberg, a psychology and biology major, says this job as a watercraft inspector is helping him develop people skills while protecting the lakes he loves. “Walking up to people you don’t know at boat ramps takes some getting used to,” Lindberg said. “But with practice, it gets easier, and I’m willing to do it to help keep invasive species out of our lakes.”
Lindberg hopes the skills he is learning this summer will help with his bedside manner if his dreams of becoming a neurologist pan out. He is part of a crew of nine inspectors hired this summer by the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute. While Lindberg works on ramps on the south shore of Lake Superior (you’ll find him at Barker’s Island and Loonsfoot Landing in Superior, plus the Brule River and Bark Bay Slough), two other inspectors work in the Bayfield, Washburn and Ashland areas. The rest the program covers the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan.
Inspectors observe boater behavior and ask them what actions they are taking to reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) like round gobies and zebra mussels. The inspectors record boaters’ answers on a form that is sent electronically to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for processing. Last year, Sea Grant inspectors reached 13,000 people and checked 6,400 boats for AIS.
The program is funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the DNR. Inspectors are trained by the University of Wisconsin Extension.
“We’ve got a good group of student inspectors this year,” said Hans Bremer, watercraft inspection program coordinator for Wisconsin Sea Grant. “With the cold spring, things were slow on Lake Superior to begin with, but things are hopping now.”
Bremer said many boaters in Wisconsin are aware of AIS laws and that checking for the unwanted plants and animals has become part of their normal routine. Some of the methods the boat inspectors use are designed to confirm this.
A Boat Inspector in Action
While at Barker’s Island public landing, Kalvin and Kristin Rossman bring their boat out of the water. Lindberg approaches, and they discuss the bad luck people are having with fishing. Without looking at the survey in his hands, Lindberg goes through the topics with practiced ease. He learns that the Rossmans have boated in several different lakes recently, and they’ve taken care to inspect their boat with each change of venue. In thanks for their cooperation, Lindberg gives them a white hand towel that sports a metal hanging loop and an invasive species prevention message. Kalvin tosses it to Kristin in the motorboat, who says they can always use another towel.