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Flathead Region Aquatic Invasive Species Watercraft Inspection Stations now open

From the Flathead Basin Commission

Two of the Flathead Region’s Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) inspection stations will open for business this week. Station inspectors will be looking for a variety of invasive species that could harm both the local economy and the aquatic environment, but the species of greatest concern are invasive zebra and quagga mussels.

Once introduced, these non-native invasive mussels rapidly blanket all hard surfaces from shore lines to manmade infrastructure. The proliferation of invasive mussels costs the U.S. millions of dollars annually. Invasive mussels foul beaches, clog dams and boat motors, drive up utility rates and result in adverse fish and wildlife impacts. And unfortunately, once introduced, it is virtually impossible to eliminate mussels from aquatic ecosystems.

In the past, most stations in Montana generally opened Memorial Day weekend. However, since 2013 the Flathead Basin Commission (FBC) and the Flathead AIS Work Group have been working to ensure that stations in the Flathead are open earlier in the season. Research has consistently shown that the greatest numbers of high-risk boats are transported prior to Memorial Day weekend. Therefore, the need to operate stations early in the season is critical to keeping invasive mussels out of the Flathead. “Operating stations early in the season will allow us to intercept snowbirds as they return from places like Lake Mead, which are heavily infested with invasive mussels,” said Caryn Miske, Executive Director of the Flathead Basin Commission.

In order to bolster existing AIS prevention efforts, in the fall of 2015, the FBC adopted a bold plan to better protect the Flathead region from unwanted Aquatic Invasive Species. The goal of the plan was to bolster perimeter defense in the Basin by opening the Highway 93, Clearwater Junction and Browning Watercraft Inspection Stations in early March 2016. However, in order to accomplish this goal the FBC needed to raise well over $100,000 over the course of six months.

The effort to open inspection stations early was given a major boost in December 2015 when the Flathead Electric Coop (FEC’s) generously donated the funding needed to open the Clearwater Junction station in early March. “The FBC will operate the station in the pre-season, and Fish, Wildlife and Parks will take over management of the Clearwater station Memorial Day weekend, so this is a great example of interagency partnership,” said Miske. Since the Clearwater station is the busiest in the State, the FEC’s donation was a critical piece in the region’s perimeter defense plan.

More recently, the FBC secured additional funding for early season operation in Browning via a Conoco-Phillips grant. Combining the Conoco funding with existing funding from the Flathead National Forest/Bureau of Reclamation-Hungry Horse, the FBC will open the Browning station this week, and mange the station through September. Last year, the Browning station, operated in partnership with the Blackfeet Tribe, intercepted 40 percent of all mussel-fouled boats detected in the State of Montana.

In February, the FBC obtained permission from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council to operate a Highway 93 station at Pablo. This station would inspect both north and southbound traffic, and would serve to intercept much of the boat traffic coming from the southwest. Unfortunately, the funding for this station has yet to be secured, and the FBC is trying to find a way to close this funding gap. “Since the Highway 93 corridor serves at the primary southern entrance to the Flathead region, obtaining funding for this station is now our highest priority,” said Tom Smith, FBC Chair.

The FBC was established by the Montana Legislature in 1983 to protect the water quality of the Flathead River drainage system. For more information, contact the FBC at 240-3453.

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