They don’t look like much, but it’s hard to overstate the threat posed by aquatic invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels to Montana’s public waterways – and all the waterways downstream in other states. “It’s terrifying,” explained Heidi Sedivy, the program manager for the Flathead Basin Protection Fund.
During an informational talk at the nonprofit Clark Fork Coalition Wednesday, Sedivy said the Columbia River watershed is the last watershed in the lower 48 states that is currently free from nonnative zebra and quagga mussels, which originated in Eastern Europe.
Western Montana represents the headwaters of the Columbia watershed, and alarm bells all over the state were raised when mussels were detected in the Tiber Reservoir in north-central Montana late last year – meaning the entire Missouri River watershed is essentially doomed.
Thompson Smith, chair of the Flathead Basin Commission, has an excellent op-ed in the Flathead Beacon discussing the importance of aggressive efforts to block further spread of invasive mussels throughout Montana’s waters . . .
In early November, state officials announced the first documented presence of zebra and quagga mussels in Montana, after positive tests at sites in the Missouri River system.
For the Flathead Basin, these devastating invasive species are now at our doorstep: just a few hours away for people hauling boats from Tiber Reservoir.
In coming days, our ability to protect Montana’s remaining non-infested waters will be determined by the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) legislation and rule-making now being finalized in Helena. What is emerging appears to be a far more robust AIS program, and it should be passed. But the devil is in the details. Experts point to a number of deficiencies that must be addressed.
First, it is important to understand that if invasive mussels do become established here, they would ravage both the aquatic environment and the economy. Tiny, razor-sharp shells would coat and clog every hard surface — rocks, boats, pipes, docks, dams. They could ultimately cause the collapse of native fisheries, a vital cultural resource and linchpin of the recreation industry. They would wreak havoc with irrigation systems, power facilities, and municipal water supply and treatment.
Once established, invasive mussels are virtually impossible to remove. The whole game is prevention.
National Invasive Species Awareness Week comes at a unique time for Montana, as Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation continue their joint efforts to implement a plan to fight aquatic invasive mussels.
“We take the fight against invasive species in Montana very seriously and continue to be vigilant in addressing threats to Montana’s critical infrastructure, economy and recreational way of life,” said Montana Gov. Steve Bullock.
NISAW runs from Feb. 27 through March 3 to raise awareness and identify solutions for invasive species at the local level. The Montana Invasive Species Advisory Council encourages Montanans to participate in local events and offers ways you can help observe.
Evidence of invasive mussels at Tiber Reservoir last November triggered an extensive survey for Flathead Lake. So far, so good . . .
The Flathead Lake Biological Station reported that more than 130 water samples from 30 locations on the lake came back negative for invasive mussels, researchers said Friday.
Following the November 2016 announcement of the first detections of invasive zebra or quagga mussels, the Flathead Lake Biological Station, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Flathead Lakers immediately collected and analyzed more than 130 environmental DNA (eDNA) samples from across Flathead Lake. The results for all of the samples did not identify any traces of the aquatic invaders, the research facility’s staff announced Feb. 17. However, lack of detection does not prove that the mussels have not arrived in the Flathead system, according to a news release from the station.
In addition to being analyzed at Professor Gordon Luikart’s Montana Conservation Genetics Lab on the University of Montana campus, the samples were also sent to an independent U.S. Geological Survey lab in Wisconsin with years of experience working on zebra and quagga mussels. The Wisconsin lab’s results are also all negative for mussels, confirming the results from Luikart’s lab, researchers stated.
As part of the statewide effort to address the risks of invasive mussels, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks plans to create a new bureau to manage the prevention, detection and control of aquatic invasive species within state borders.
The Aquatic Invasive Species Bureau will be housed in FWP’s Fisheries Division, with plans to be operational beginning in March. The agency began a nationwide recruitment for a bureau supervisor this week.
“Aquatic invasive species pose an enormous risk to Montana’s waters, economy, and way of life,” said Eileen Ryce, FWP Fisheries Division Administrator. “The increasing scope and complexity of managing these threats requires a more comprehensive approach.”
Responsibilities of the Aquatic Invasive Species Bureau will encompass all aspects of AIS prevention, including early detection, rapid response, control, outreach and vector management.
In October 2016, Montana’s first-ever detection of invasive mussel larvae showed up in Tiber Reservoir – and “suspect” detections turned up in Canyon Ferry Reservoir, the Missouri River below Toston Dam, and the Milk River. The discovery triggered a natural resource emergency in Montana and led to several recommend strategies to manage the threat of invasive mussels spreading to other areas.
In January, Montana’s Joint Mussel Response Implementation Team leaders presented a series of recommendations to the Montana Legislature to address prevention, detection and control efforts, including the creation of an AIS management bureau within FWP. Other recommendations included additional mandatory Montana watercraft inspection stations; deployment of watercraft decontamination stations at Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs; and doubling sample collection to more than 1,500 taken from more than 200 waterbodies, all of which will fall under the management of the new bureau chief.
The AIS bureau chief will be responsible for the rapid response to AIS detections, which will often require coordination among multiple agencies, partners, and stakeholders, while mobilizing and redirecting resources to address threats. The Incident Command System, used in Montana under Gov. Steve Bullock’s natural resource emergency executive order last November, will become a standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of emergency responses for specific AIS detections in the future.
Information on the AIS bureau chief position is available online at: Bureau Chief – https://mtstatejobs.taleo.net/careersection/200/jobdetail.ftl?job=17140292. Applications are due Feb. 28.
The Joint Mussel Response Implementation Team includes staff members from FWP, DNRC and other agencies. It is tasked with carrying out recommendation to further minimize the risk of spreading mussels to other Montana waters.
All boaters and anglers are urged take year-round precautions and to Clean, Drain and Dry their equipment after each use. For more information visit musselresponse.mt.gov or Montana Mussel Response on Facebook.
Developed by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, the plan recommends doubling the number of inspection stations on roads leading into the state from 17 to 34 in an effort to intercept infected watercraft before boats are launched, while adding four new decontamination stations.
Montana needs to spend some real money fighting invasive mussels . . .
The Montana Mussel Response team set out a proposed budget to state lawmakers Monday for invasive mussel control in Montana, with a price tag of about $10.2 million for the next two years.
The funding proposal calls for decontamination stations at infested waterways, doubling the number of inspection stations across the state from 17 to 34 and increasing the number of annual water samples to 1,500 at 206 water bodies. The plan would also fund education and outreach efforts and strengthen the state’s overall effort.
About half the cost could be covered by federal matching grants. It will be up to lawmakers to actually fund the measure.
Late last Fall, waters in the Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs tested positive for invasive mussel larvae. Montana officials reacted quickly, closing boating access at both locations and initiating the removal of underwater structures for inspection. Later, the Milk River near Malta and the Missouri River near York’s Islands Fishing Access Site south of Townsend also showed evidence of possible infestation by zebra and quagga mussels, triggering further responses to the threat.
Glacier National Park immediately closed all its waters to boating,. A close reading of their press release indicates public boating access may well be restricted throughout the 2017 season.
Why all the uproar? Because invasive mussels cause huge damage to waterways, equipment and fish populations. Once established, they are impossible to remove completely. Mussels are filter feeders, gobbling up the plankton that form the base of the food chain for native fish. Mussels have been known to reduce available plankton by 70 to 80 percent in some waters.
First detected in the Great Lakes less than 30 years ago, mussels now have a foothold in 29 states. In most cases, they were spread by hitching rides on poorly cleaned private watercraft. So, any positive detection anywhere in the state is a big deal.
Uh, oh. More evidence of invasive mussel species in Montana’s waters . . .
Preliminary test results have indicated another possible detection of mussel larvae south of Canyon Ferry Reservoir in the Missouri River, although additional lab work is needed to confirm the detection.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman Greg Lemon said Monday evening that a water sample taken from the York Islands fishing access south of Townshend was found to be “suspect” during initial testing by state scientists. He said additional testing is needed to confirm whether the sample contained larvae from zebra or quagga mussels, two species of invasive mussel known to multiply aggressively and generate costly damage to aquatic ecosystems and infrastructure.
The finding comes about two weeks after mussel larvae, known as “veligers,” were confirmed for the first time in Montana waters at Tiber Reservoir. Another sample taken from upstream in Canyon Ferry was inconclusive, but a visual microscopy test indicated the veligers were present in that water body as well.
Regional officials are not happy about the recent detection of invasive mussels in Montana’s Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs . . .
A group tasked with protecting the aquatic resources of the Flathead River drainage is urging state officials to close the Canyon Ferry and Tiber reservoirs to all boats as evidence mounts that both of the Central Montana water bodies now harbor invasive mussels.
The Flathead Basin Commission is including the closure recommendations in a letter to Gov. Steve Bullock, drafted last week at the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station. It was the commission’s first meeting after the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Nov. 9 announcement that the long-feared presence of invasive mussels had been confirmed in Tiber Reservoir — the first such detection in the state.
Glacier National Park and the Blackfeet Nation both closed all their waters to boating within days of the state’s announcement and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service followed suit by closing a popular recreation pond that supplies water to its hatchery in Creston.