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Volunteering with AIS Detectors takes Brian Raney back to his roots

Brian Raney

Our childhood experiences can do a lot to mold us as we grow up. Brian Raney has demonstrated this impact throughout his life as an outdoor enthusiast, continual learner and volunteer.

Growing up in Wisconsin on the banks of the Fox River, Brian saw the water go from unfishable and un-swimmable to becoming healthy enough to house a huge walleye fishery. His parents frequently took them to the family cabin, which inspired a love for camping and caring for nature.

After graduating with a degree in biology, his career was in computer systems integration, with environmental causes always at the back of his mind. After retirement and some traveling, Brian took the opportunity to give back to the community and started his volunteering journey with the historical society.

Online learning created a path to volunteering

Unfortunately, a worldwide pandemic put a damper on his efforts. Like many people, Brian turned to the world of webinars and online gatherings. This is how he found the Aquatic Invasive Species Detectors Program, where Extension facilitated his journey back to his roots.

"Getting into AIS volunteering, I'm always learning something new or building upon what I've learned because there's just so much to know." He has since taken two Minnesota Master Naturalist courses as well.

With the combination of these two programs, he never lacks volunteer opportunities; this is one reason he encourages people to join AIS Detectors. The programs encourage ongoing learning and send out volunteer opportunities to pick and choose from according to your skill level and availability. Brian emphasized that flexible volunteer opportunities allow him to tailor his service around his schedule, and make it work for him.

Brian volunteers for the Wetland Health and Evaluation Program monitoring wetlands in Dakota County. He has gathered data on freshwater golden clams and spread the word for Get the Lead Out, a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency program to protect and restore the population of common loons by reducing their exposure to lead-based fishing tackle.

"While looking to get involved in more environmental causes, I was searching out organizations to join that would support that." The Izaak Walton League fit the bill and he now serves as the president of the Wabasha chapter. Not only does he roll up his sleeves and accomplish physical tasks, but he also contributes to education through tabling at events like the Grumpy Old Men fishing contest and with the DNR at the state fair.

Science doesn't end with volunteering

Brian is always looking for new ways to learn and contribute to science, even when he's not participating in a facilitated volunteer opportunity. When he vacations, he always tries to go somewhere he can learn something new.

He aims to contribute to science whenever he's outdoors, even if it isn’t AIS related. “If I'm out doing anything or observing anything, I keep my iNaturalist app near me. And so, if I see something, I'll get a picture of it.” He avidly encourages people to use iNaturalist due to its links to ongoing research. A recent research study included his wife’s photo of a backyard coyote in their data.

When asked what accomplishment Brian was most proud of, he replied, "Given my prior history, just getting out there and volunteering. I've always been ecologically minded. After retiring I wanted to get back to my roots, if you will. Also, I have a cabin on the Mississippi River, by Wabasha, and you can't live on the river without seeing AIS impacts."

We are so happy to have Brian be part of the AIS Detectors crew and can’t wait to see his future positive impact on Minnesota’s waterways.

Author: Michelle Isaacson, AIS Detectors program

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