Charles “Chip” Welling’s curiosity about aquatic invasive species extended from lakes to the family kitchen.
His wife, Barb Thoman, would sometimes find bags of plants he had collected through his work as a biologist chilling in the refrigerator. His family members and his colleagues at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) say that diligence, combined with a love of the outdoors, made him one of the state’s go-to guys in the fight against aquatic invasive species.
Welling, 62, died April 28 at his St. Paul home after a nine-month struggle with cancer.
“He became really the state’s expert and one of the leading experts in the country,” said longtime friend Luke Skinner, the director of ecological and water resources for the DNR, who worked closely with Welling. “He really wanted to make sure that we were making science-based decisions.”
Welling was born and raised in Baltimore, and later moved to Alaska, where he received a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. He earned a master’s degree in botany from Iowa State University.
Minnesota’s weather — especially the cold and gray skies — lured Welling to the state in 1987, Thoman said. The couple married in 1990 and had a daughter, Robin Welling, who is following in her father’s footsteps, studying for a graduate degree in geology at the University of Montana with a focus on streams and rivers.
Welling was an avid fisherman and could be seen on the shores of Lake Calhoun in the spring and fall. He cross-country skied in the winter and rode his bicycle in the summer.
“He really loved the out-of-doors,” Thoman said. “He took advantage of every Minnesota season.”
Welling believed in treading lightly on the earth, she said. He avoided riding in cars, preferring to travel by public transportation and bicycle. He used boats without motors and encouraged elected officials to step up efforts to protect the environment.
He was a research fellow and scientist at the University of Minnesota in the early 1990s before beginning a career with the DNR as the invasive aquatic species coordinator. Welling stayed with the agency for 24 years.
Skinner said it was Welling’s pioneering research that gained him recognition among peers, local lake associations and national organizations as the point person in controlling invasive plants in lakes. Welling helped fight such aquatic invasive species as Eurasian watermilfoil, which was discovered in the state a few years before he started working at the DNR.
After his work shifts, he spent countless hours helping lake associations and members of the community understand their lakes and find ways to combat invasive plants.
“My husband was really interested in people,” Thoman said. “He was dependable. He was direct, a good communicator and had a good sense of humor.”
To honor Welling and his dedication to the environment, the family collected donations for a tree fund. They raised nearly $8,000, which they will give to the Minneapolis Park Board to plant trees in Welling’s name. The trees will be planted near the south end of the Stone Arch Bridge, Mill Ruins Park in downtown, and Lake Calhoun, Thoman said.
Welling was preceded in death by his parents, Mary Lou Randolph and Charlie Welling, and his brother, William Jenkins. In addition to his wife and daughter of St. Paul, he is survived by sisters Karen Artuso of Pittsburgh and Lucy Liddell of Baltimore, and brother Perry Welling, also of Baltimore.
Funeral services have been held.