On April 15, Montana’s full response to the invasive mussels begins statewide with more than 30 inspection stations, decontamination stations for boats leaving Tiber and Canyon Ferry Reservoirs and a broad outreach and education effort to help ensure people recreating on Montana’s waterways are practicing clean, drain and dry techniques at all times.
The biggest changes will be seen by those recreationists at Tiber and Canyon Ferry. In March, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved rules requiring boaters on Canyon Ferry and Tiber reservoirs to launch and exit at designated boat ramps, unless they are officially certified as local boaters on those specific waters by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
While local boaters won’t be required to decontaminate their vessels with hot water each time they leave Tiber or Canyon Ferry – they’ll still be required to stop at an inspection station where they’ll be expedited through after a brief interview. The program is designed to decrease volume at decontamination stations and allow a focus on boats traveling elsewhere.
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.
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.
It’s that time of year. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is busy dealing with nuisance grizzlies as they fatten up ahead of winter hibernation. One two-year-old delinquent was captured near the county landfill and turned loose up the North Fork’s Whale Creek drainage . . .
Wildlife managers captured a 5- or 6-year-old, 365-pound, adult male grizzly bear above Lake Blaine on the east side of the Flathead Valley Oct. 19 after the bruin was reported to have been damaging fruit trees in the area.
Officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks relocated the bear to the east side of Hungry Horse Reservoir. It was fitted with a GPS collar and had not been captured previously
Meanwhile, managers also caught a 2-year-old male grizzly across U.S. Highway 93 from the Flathead County Landfill after the bear was reportedly eating apples at a residence.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, partner agencies and other organizations are prepared for white-nose syndrome (WNS), should it turn up in Montana’s bat population.
Washington state released news last week that WNS was detected recently in a bat discovered near North Bend, Washington. This marks the western most discovery of the disease, which has killed more than 6 million bats in eastern states since 2006. The disease was confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center. WNS is not known to pose a threat to humans, pets, livestock or other wildlife.
WNS is a fungus that can be spread by bats, animals or humans carrying spores on their bodies, or in the case of humans, clothing and gear. In particular, recreational cavers traveling from one cave to another can transport the fungus on their boots, ropes or clothing.
However, an important partnership has developed between Montana agencies and the caving community decreasing the odds of humans spreading the disease here. In particular, the Northern Rocky Mountain Grotto has been working to educate their members and other cavers on the risks of spreading this disease and the importance of “clean caving.” Clean caving simply means adequately disinfecting gear between cave visits.
Five years after the contentious decision to remove federal protections under the Endangered Species Act, Montana’s gray wolf population remains healthy and among the largest in the Northern Rockies, according to state wildlife officials.
The state’s Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department reported a minimum count of 536 wolves across Montana in 2015, 18 fewer than the previous year but well above the federally-mandated minimum of 150.
Biologists confirmed a minimum of 32 breeding pairs, down from 34 in 2014. The federal and state standard requires a minimum of 15 breeding pairs.
Wolf numbers in Montana remain healthy and well above federally-mandated minimums as the fifth and final year of federal oversight of state wolf management comes to an end in May.
Montana’s annual wolf report shows a minimum wolf count of 536 wolves in 2015, which is down from 554 in 2014. Included in this number is a minimum number of breeding pairs of 32, which is down from 34 in 2014.
The difference between the overall minimum wolf counts in 2014 and 2015 is 18, well within the variability expected when counting a wide-ranging species that often occupies rough timbered country.
“It is important to remember that these are minimum counts, meaning that only wolves FWP could actually document as being on the landscape were included,” said John Vore, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Game Management Bureau Chief. “As wolf numbers have increased there is just no way we can physically count them all. We know there are more wolves out there. According to our best estimates the actual number of wolves is at least 30 percent more than the minimum count.”
Whitefish makes a preliminary move to protect even more of their watershed from development . . .
Even as local leaders and state resource managers celebrated the recent completion of the Haskill Basin conservation easement east of Whitefish Lake, a plan to protect more than 15,000 acres of private land northwest of the lake is already in the works.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Conservation Manager Alan Wood said the Whitefish Lake Watershed Project, a 15,334-acre easement proposal northwest of the lake, is still in its preliminary stages.
Good news for Whitefish: The Haskill Basin conservation easement is a done deal . . .
For years, conservation groups and city officials have recognized the development pressure that could bear down on Haskill Basin, a block of land east of Whitefish owned by F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co.
And for years, those concerns were quelled by a good-faith agreement with the Stoltze family, who for more than a century has maintained its commitment to managing the Haskill parcel as a working forest, rather than leveraging it into a revenue-rich development deal.
On Wednesday, that handshake deal was inked into the history books as Whitefish city officials, along with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Stoltze, and the nonprofit Trust for Public Land, finalized an agreement to furnish permanent protections on 3,020 acres of land in the Haskill Creek watershed.