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AIS Boat Inspection Stations continue to keep unwanted pests out of waterways

By Adriana Fehrs

Deb Espinoza (L) and Faith Matt (R), Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park, smile while taking a break in-between checking Flathead Lake bound water crafts at the Ronan Aquatic Invasive Species boat inspection station. Espinoza reminds boaters, “We check all watercrafts, not just boats, and that includes kayaks.” (Adriana Fehrs photo) Deb Espinoza (L) and Faith Matt (R), Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park, smile while taking a break in-between checking Flathead Lake bound water crafts at the Ronan Aquatic Invasive Species boat inspection station. Espinoza reminds boaters, “We check all watercrafts, not just boats, and that includes kayaks.” (Adriana Fehrs photo)

RONAN — The Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Boat Inspection Station is up and fully running.

This is the first year of mandatory boat inspection. All boaters, including any watercrafts, traveling northbound on Hwy 93 will be required to stop in at the AIS boat inspection station. Since Memorial Day weekend, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Park employees have been deterring the spread of invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels and eurasian watermilfoil.

Clint Folden, CSKT Water Quality Regulatory Specialist and wetlands coordinator, holds up a replica of a zebra and quagga mussel clogged pipe. Folden says invasive species can be very expensive. “Quagga mussels can plug up an irrigation pipe in a week.” (Adriana Fehrs photo) Clint Folden, CSKT Water Quality Regulatory Specialist and wetlands coordinator, holds up a replica of a zebra and quagga mussel clogged pipe. Folden says invasive species can be very expensive. “Quagga mussels can plug up an irrigation pipe in a week.” (Adriana Fehrs photo)

Clint Folden, CSKT Water Quality Regulatory Specialist and wetlands coordinator, says invasive species can be very expensive. “Quagga mussels can plug up an irrigation pipe in a week, and when that happens it can be costly to clean up. The Hoover Dam has to use chemicals to get rid of the mussels, and they have to do it every month. It costs millions per year to treat.”

Currently most bodies of water east of the Mississippi River have been invaded by zebra and quagga mussels, and it is spreading across the states. CSKT and Montana FWP are taking preventive measures to reduce the risk of AIS spreading into the Flathead Lake water system. Eurasian watermilfoil and recently curly leaf pond weed have been spotted on the reservation. “Flathead Lake is vulnerable, due to the large influx of tourists,” says Folden.

A lake bound boat stops in at the Aquatic Invasive Species boat inspection station on Hwy 93 south of Ronan. The station is part of a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ effort to stave off infestations of invasive species. (Photo courtesy of Deb Espinoza, Montana FWP)  A lake bound boat stops in at the Aquatic Invasive Species boat inspection station on Hwy 93 south of Ronan. The station is part of a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ effort to stave off infestations of invasive species. (Photo courtesy of Deb Espinoza, Montana FWP)

Montana has both roving and stationary boat inspection stations. Ronan, a stationary boat inspection station, has already inspected 2,252 watercrafts. Montana FWP provides the manpower and CSKT provides the port-a-potty and camper.

Two Montana FWP employees man the station during the week, and on the weekends there are four individuals there to check boats. “We inspect 30 to 80 boats during the week on average, and on the weekends there is a lot more traffic,” says Faith Matt, Montana FWP watercraft inspector. On the Fourth of July weekend, the station saw over 147 on Friday and 220 the next day. Last year, over 4,853 in-state and 741 out-of-state watercrafts were inspected. “We always try to inform boaters of Eurasian watermilfoil, because a lot of boater don’t think about the plants as invasive species,” says Deb Espinoza, Montana FWP watercraft inspector.

Memorial weekend marks the start of the mandatory Aquatic Invasive Species boat inspection station in Ronan. (Adriana Fehrs photo) Memorial weekend marks the start of the mandatory Aquatic Invasive Species boat inspection station in Ronan. (Adriana Fehrs photo)

At the station, watercrafts undergo a thorough search. The inspectors check the underside, specifically looking for baby mussels which feels like sandpaper according to Folden. They also inspect the inside of the watercraft, and any areas of the boat that hold water – like the fish well and the engine. The inspection on average takes only fifteen minutes, and local boaters who visit the same body of water on a regular basis can request a sticker from the station and will not undergo a survey at every inspection.

A lake bound boat stops in at the Aquatic Invasive Species boat inspection station on Hwy 93 south of Ronan. The station is part of a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ effort to stave off infestations of invasive species. (Photo courtesy of Deb Espinoza, Montana FWP) A lake bound boat stops in at the Aquatic Invasive Species boat inspection station on Hwy 93 south of Ronan. The station is part of a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ effort to stave off infestations of invasive species. (Photo courtesy of Deb Espinoza, Montana FWP)

For more information on AIS, or AIS boat inspection stations, contact Linnaea Schroeer, Statewide Aquatic Invasive Species Liason, at (406) 444-3378, or contact Clint Folden, Clint Folden, CSKT Water Quality Regulatory Specialist and wetlands coordinator, at (406) 675-2700 ext. 7255 or email him at clintf@cskt.org.

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