Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is looking to increase its effort to keep invasive species like zebra and quagga mussels out of the Flathead River Basin.
The basin, which is part of the headwaters of the Columbia River system, is currently mussel-free and the state wants to keep it that way. In 2016, evidence of mussels was found in two Montana reservoirs to the east at Canyon Ferry and Tiber. Adult mussels, however, have yet to be found in either water body.
Under a pilot program, a network of inspection stations will be in place, including stations on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation on U.S. Highway 2, Eureka, Troy, Thompson Falls, Ravalli and Clearwater Junction, which will encircle the basin.
There will also be an inspection station at FWP headquarters in Kalispell.
Boaters coming in from outside the basin must stop at check stations under the pilot program, though the state is devising a “passport” system for in-state boaters that should expedite the process, noted Tom Woolf of FWP.
Any boater that leaves the basin and comes back in must also be inspected. Boaters will be given an inspection certificate to show their craft has been inspected.
Separately, the City of Whitefish has its own inspection stations on Whitefish Lake and Glacier National Park has a mandatory inspection process as well.
Last year Glacier required a 30-day quarantine period for trailered inspected boats before they could launch on Lake McDonald. All other waters only allowed non-trailered craft, which, in effect, banned motorboats at all lakes but Lake McDonald.
FWP inspectors saw more than 85,700 watercraft come through 35 inspection stations last year. They intercepted 17 boats transporting zebra or quagga mussels into the state.
FWP and partner agencies collected more than 1,500 plankton samples from 240 waterbodies for early detection monitoring of invasive mussel larvae and other AIS. Plankton tow sampling tests a massive amount of water and is considered the most reliable method for detecting invasive mussel larvae. This year’s monitoring was nearly triple the effort from 2016. No invasive mussel larvae or adults were observed in Montana waters this year, FWP biologists noted.
Public hearings on the FWP inspection station proposal are set for:
Feb. 6, at 2 p.m., at the FWP Region 1 office, 490 North Meridian Road in Kalispell
Feb. 6, at 2 p.m., at the FWP Region 2 office, 3201 Spurgin Road in Missoula.
The bottomline for boaters and anglers is simple, Woolf noted. Make sure your boat is clean,drained and dry after boating. That’s the best way to stem the spread of invasive species, he noted.