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Volunteers explore Dakota County wetlands for signs of biodiversity

Volunteers search Dakota County wetlands for signs of biodiversity
Volunteers search Dakota County wetlands for signs of biodiversity 03:28

ROSEMOUNT, Minn. – Minnesotans take pride in their pristine lakes and waterways.

One of the best places to know the health of an ecosystem is likely a place you've overlooked: wetlands.

A murky wetland in Dakota County – crawling with leeches, skuds and tadpoles – is not the first place you'd think to spend the evening. But these little creatures are exactly what volunteers are hoping to find, because they are an indicator of biodiversity.

"We're looking for anything that's in here that's living amongst this vegetation," said volunteer Steven Hoch. "If you have a diversity of leeches, that's a good thing."

This group is part of a coalition of citizens that's been at this since the late 90s.

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"I love wetlands, they're very important. That's why I do it," said volunteer Jane.

Volunteers like Jane put in 200,000 hours last year, collecting samples, bug counts, and land drawings for scientists to then crosscheck.

"You don't have to have any training to participate in this program. You don't need to have any equipment. We'll provide all the waders and all that they need," said Paula Liepold, Dakota County water resource educator.

The stuff they drudge up underwater helps scientists learn. In 2022, they learned most of the monitored wetlands were stable. Some slightly declined or improved.   


Based on the invertebrates found, more than half were moderately healthy. The rest were poor, except for one. A healthy dragonfly, for example, signals the environment was healthy enough for them to grow.

Experts have also learned native plants along the shorelines cut down on runoff and improve our water quality – as they continue to watch how stormwater and road salt use impact that.

"Having clean water to drink, we need wetlands," Jane said.

"Emily, my daughter there, she's really fired up and enthused about this," Steven Hoch said.

"I really want other people to know about the wetlands, and I want to learn more about the wetlands. And also my dad is doing it," Emily Hoch said.

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It's not particularly sophisticated. A couple of plastic bottle traps and some nets for swooshing up samples. But it connects this group to their community, and they're trying to make it better, and contribute to its wellness. 

"It's fun, it's nice to do some science," Jane said.

And it all starts with what's lurking under the surface.

"We really need to understand that we live in watersheds, not just in neighborhoods, not in states and counties, but we live in watersheds. And there are people downstream and upstream from us," Steven Hoch said. "This really, you know, brings that home."

For those who'd like to volunteer for the Minnesota Wetland Health Evaluation Program, visit the program's website. 

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