Spotted knapweed infestation

Spotted knapweed infestation is shown here along a right of way in a construction zone.

A cooperative terrestrial invasive species management group is being established in Aitkin County.

Dubbed ACTISMA and led by DNR  Aitkin Area Forestry invasive species lead Derek Wagner and Assistant County Land Commissioner Dennis Thompson, the group’s primary goal is to enhance the ability of land managers to access resources and funding to tackle invasive species problems in the county.

One of the Aitkin County Terrestrial Invasive Species Management Area goals is to develop a coordinated plan with input from the partners. In preparing for the group’s work, Wagner asked each land manager to define their organizational strengths and what kind of role they see themselves playing in ACTISMA.

Because much of Aitkin County is in territory ceded to the state by tribes in treaties, Rice Lake Federal Wildlife Refuge Manager Walt Ford is a key player as the tribal liaison for the group.

“The more partners we have, the more good ideas will develop and the better it will look as we put together requests for funding for invasive species control projects,” said Wagner last week.

He doesn’t anticipate aerial spraying; most of the treatments would be chemical spraying from boom spray trucks, all-terrain vehicles with sprayers and backpack sprayers.

Currently, Wagner’s biggest concerns are spotted  knapweed and European buckthorn. Treatments in the past have been spot treatments that Wagner has done on his own, since he’s the only licensed applicator in the area.  

Wagner has been allocated funding for invasive species work by DNR Ecological and Water Resources, and is hiring contractors to do buckthorn removal.

He wants to expand that work to other jurisdictions, to create efficiencies of operation and opportunities for participation. Private property is a big concern. The DNR has money for cost sharing through the Private Forest Management program to help private landowners. Typical treatments cost around $400-600 per acre, so opportunities to cooperate are welcome.  

“Biological control of knapweed using weevils is being investigated but the cost is currently really high.  At General Andrews nursery, they are experimenting with that,” said Wagner.


Economic efficiency in treatment is one of the main goals of the association.  

For example, the Aitkin County Highway Department can help when county rights of way are infested adjacent to state forest land; there is a  memorandum of understanding in place that would allow the DNR to treat county rights of way at the same time they treat state forest infestations.

For example, County Road 40 near Big Sandy Lake is infested with tansy and spotted knapweed. Similar cooperative situations occur with MnDOT treating adjacent to a state highway.

Gravel pits adjacent to county roads will be able to  be treated all at the same time, saving travel and personnel costs for the cooperating land managers.

Wagner will be able to inform the road authority of the opportunity to treat so many of feet of road right of way while a crew is in place to treat a gravel pit infestation, saving the other jurisdiction money in the process.

ACTISMA has not met yet because of agency closures related to COVID-19, so Wagner is not sure exactly what the group will come up with for strategies when they are able to meet again.


At the end of the last biennium, Wagner found that  there was funding left over that was allocated to forestry areas that were never able to do invasive species control projects, due to other commitments or lack of trained personnel to do the field work.  

Last summer (2019) Aitkin county land managers had a tour with DNR and Aitkin County Land Department staff.  ACLD doesn’t have access to Ecological and Water Resources grants, so the new Terrestrial Invasive Species point person, Sascha Lodge in St. Paul, is helping facilitate DNR’s request to share funding with the ACLD.

With Wagner being the invasive species lead for the Aitkin Area, he can access funding for projects through state grants.  

“It will be awfully nice if some of our partners could use some of that funding to do control projects that benefit everyone in the county,” said Wagner.


ACTISMA is more of an association or cooperative than a committee. They chose the name “Area” to keep it geographically within Aitkin County.  

“We want to control, manage and eradicate terrestrial invasive species in Aitkin County,” Wagner explained. The ACTISMA kickoff meeting was scheduled toward the end of March, but has been postponed. The plan is for Minnesota DNR to schedule it again when things settle down after the pandemic closures; possibly waiting until next winter.  

Thompson and Wagner  are co-leaders; Aitkin County Land Department, Aitkin Highway Department, MnDOT, Aitkin County Soil and Water Conservation District, Rice Lake Refuge and the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe are land management entities that are expected to be involved. The seven are potential partners in the project to coordinate activities and to share resources.  Kelly Applegate, Mille Lacs Band Director of Natural Resource Management said last week that the (Minnesota Ojibwe) tribe is always very concerned about the environment.

“They recognize that there will never be a time when invasive species are not a threat, at least as long as there is so much interstate and international commerce,” said Applegate.  Emerald ash borer came into the country on imported lumber. Terrestrial invasive plants can be introduced by tires on roadways.  Mille Lacs Band leadership is very concerned and plans  to take a very active part in the ACTISMA group. A lot of band staff members are working from home, but they plan to become actively engaged in ACTISMA once they are back in their offices.

The Mille Lacs Band has a policy of using no biocides, out of respect for the living earth and the plant communities on which band members still depend for food and medicines.

However, by commissioner’s order they are able to act to prevent accidentally introduced invasive species from becoming entrenched and wreaking havoc on native plant communities.

Cooperative weed management associations, or cooperative invasive species management associations have been common for many years. Wagner and Thompson are trying to pursue something like that to help their partners gain access to money that would otherwise not be available to them.


DNR currently uses Garlon 4 to treat invasive plants on dry upland sites without any water.

In gravel pits, Wagner prefers to use Transline herbicide.  He doesn’t recommend a lot of broadcast spraying; most of it is spot treatment with a wand, so that there is a lot less overspray. A cut buckthorn stump is treated directly, but some patches that are really thick can be treated with broadcast spraying from a skidder, using Garlon 3-A (for aquatic sites).

Even though Wagner is qualified as a pesticide applicator, he is able to enter the soil types, distance to water, site sensitivity and so on into a web application, and someone with expertise can make the decision about whether the treatment plan is appropriate.

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