The Flathead Basin Commission wants stepped up protection against invasive mussels for Flathead Lake. (The Hungry Horse News gets credit/blame for the headline pun.) . . .
With the detection of invasive mussels last November in the Tiber Reservoir, Montana lost its status as one of the last few states free of zebra or quagga mussels.
These mussels may be small, but they cause big problems. When they hitch a ride on watercraft or in bilge water and travel between water bodies, they reproduce quickly and have a host of negative effects, including structural damage, water chemistry changes, and algal blooms.
They also rob native species of food and habitat. As the mussels infest water bodies increasingly closer to the Flathead Basin, conservation organizations are scrambling to develop new plans for prevention and management. The current state plan for managing aquatic invasive species includes three links in a “protective tripod,” as Thompson Smith, Chair of the Flathead Basin Commission called it during a meeting last week.
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.
Here’s the latest on the state bill to fight invasive mussel species in Montana’s waters . . .
The Senate Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved a bill to bolster the defense against aquatic invasive mussels, which were detected in Montana waters for the first time in the state’s history last fall.
However, a proposed amendment granting full rule-making authority to the Flathead Basin Commission to oversee a local inspection program was not successful.
The Senate Natural Resources Committee on April 7 reviewed House Bill 622, a measure introduced by four Northwest Montana legislators: Republicans Mike Cuffe, of Eureka; Bob Keenan, of Bigfork; Mark Noland, of Bigfork; and Al Olszewski, of Kalispell. All 12 members of the committee voted to advance the bill to the Senate, which is scheduled to consider it April 11.
Glacier Park has decided to allow small, hand-propelled watercraft on their lakes this season, as long as they are inspected for invasive mussels. Anything with a motor or big enough to require a trailer, is prohibited while the park further evaluates the danger posed by invasive mussel species.
Possibly in response to some points raised at last month’s Interlocal Meeting, “local users who live in more remote locations” (i.e., North Forkers) can get their equipment inspected at the “nearest ranger station.”
Here is the full press release, including a useful Q&A section. It’s followed by a link to a good summary article in the Hungry Horse News . . .
Date: March 16, 2017
Contact: Office of the Superintendent, 406-888-7901
WEST GLACIER, MT. – Glacier National Park announced today that hand-propelled, non-trailered watercraft including kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards will be permitted in the park with mandatory inspection beginning May 15 for Lake McDonald and the North Fork and June 1, 2017 for all remaining areas of the park. Last November, park waters were closed to all boating as a precaution after invasive species of non-native mussels were detected in two popular Montana reservoirs east of the park.
Hand-powered boat users will be required to have their craft certified mussel-free (“clean, drained, and dry”) by Glacier staff under a new inspection program with stations in four popular locations in the park. (Local users who live in more remote locations will be directed to the nearest ranger station for inspection.) This is a change from last season, when hand-propelled watercraft required visitors to complete an AIS-free self-certification form before launching into Glacier’s lakes.
Privately owned motorized and trailered watercraft brought into the park will not be allowed to operate on Glacier’s waters this summer while a comprehensive assessment of the threat from mussels is underway. Among other measures, this will include comprehensive testing of waters in the park and elsewhere in Montana for the presence of quagga and zebra mussels. These non-native mollusks reproduce quickly and can wreak havoc with lake environments, water quality, native wildlife, lake infrastructure, and cause significant economic harm to infested regions.
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.