Montana’s invasive species defense ramps up this weekend
HELENA — Montana’s program to detect and stop the spread of aquatic invasive species goes fully operational today with regulations in place and staff ready to inspect, and if necessary, “decontaminate” watercraft.
About 75 Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks seasonal employees were trained in Helena this week on operating inspection stations and power washers that spray hot enough to kill a major threat to the state’s waters: invasive aquatic mussels.
“By and large, the people I’ve talked to have been really supportive and understanding of what we’re doing,” said Greg Lemon with FWP. “Everything comes back to the ‘Clean, Drain, Dry’ campaign. That cup of water left in a ballast or live well is just not acceptable this year.”
For the first time in the Northwest, larvae from either zebra or quagga mussels were detected in Montana last year. A confirmed sample at Tiber Reservoir and suspected hit at Canyon Ferry Reservoir trigged a governor’s emergency declaration.
Once established the mussels quickly spread, covering any hard surface and clogging infrastructure, adding clean-out costs for dams, municipal water and irrigators. As plankton feeders, the mollusks send ripple effects up the food chain negatively impacting aquatic life.
There is no known way to control the mussels once established. Costs in the Great Lakes where populations have thrived exceed $5 billion in a 10-year period. The estimated annual cost to the currently mussel-free Columbia River basin is $500 million.
With Montana now considered a “source-state” for mussels, the state including FWP and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation stood up a program aimed at stopping the spread. The program includes doubling the number of watercraft inspection stations across the state, mandatory decontamination at Tiber and Canyon Ferry and mandatory inspection for all out-of-state watercraft. Mussels attached to boats or microscopic larvae living in standing water is a main means of unwittingly spreading invasives.
The state’s program includes the hiring of 180 seasonal employees as watercraft inspectors. About 350 people applied for the positions, Lemon said, and trainings like the one at Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds walked those on the front lines through techniques and safety.
Not all watercraft is the same and inspectors will spend more time with complex boats containing interworkings that could hide standing water.
“Sometimes a decontamination is as simple as an inspection,” he said. “If boaters practice Clean, Drain, Dry, that will make it a whole lot easier to go through than the full decon, which could average 30 minutes.
“I think the smart boater this year will have a towel and have all the standing water gone when they get off the water.”
If a boat does come through inspection with mud or vegetation attached, that’s when staff will likely decontaminate with the pressure washer, he said. Water hitting a scalding 140 degrees will kill mussels and larvae, including flushing pumps or ballasts. In the most extreme cases, the motor’s cooling system will need to be flushed.
Mussels are not the only target of the inspections, as exotic aquatic plants are easily transported attached to boats.
While more than 30 inspection stations open Saturday, some roadside stations at places such as Clearwater Junction have operated since February.
Tiber and Canyon Ferry decontamination stations have also been in place since ice-off, Lemon said. Launches are either designated for “all boats” or for “local boaters only.” Those who plan to only boat Tiber or Canyon Ferry may sign up for the local boater decal. Once certified, local boaters need not decontaminate their boats each time they leave the water, but must still stop at inspection stations.
Ramps currently open to all boaters on Tiber are located at Tiber Marina and the VFW ramp.
All boaters may currently launch on Canyon Ferry at the Silos on the southwest side and Shannon near the dam.
As boat traffic picks up, plans call for opening additional ramps to all boaters funneled to designated decontamination stations, Lemon said.
More information, including reservoir maps and open ramps, as well as local boater certification, is available at musselresponse.mt.gov.