Char-Koosta News

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CSKT are a key component of halting the spread of AIS in Flathead Basin

By B.L. Azure
Char-Koosta News

POLSON — It is an epic battle that the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Flathead Basin Commission as well as the State of Montana are in when it comes to halting the potential spread of zebra and quagga mussels into the Flathead Basin, and by proxy the Columbia River Basin and the Northwest from the Flathead to the Pacific Ocean. The Flathead/Columbia Basin is the only such ecosystem in the lower 48 that remains free of such invasive species.

The CSKT and the FBC have been on the forefront of assessing and combatting the negative consequences of the potential spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) into the Flathead Basin.

The mission of the FBC, created in 1983 by the Montana Legislature, is to protect the existing high quality of the Flathead Lake aquatic environment as well as the waters that flow into, out of, or are tributaries to the lake, and the natural resources and environment of the Flathead Basin.

The mission of the Flathead Nation is based on the sacredness the three tribes — Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai — hold all of nature, especially water. Gifts of the Creator that must cared for perpetually, as they have been cared for since time immemorial by the Ancestors of the Tribes. The life-giving gifts of the Creator’s natural environment are not to be squandered or sold, only used proportionately by those of now so there is plenty for those generations yet to come — a spiritual sacrifice.  

Heretofore the State had seemed to be more focused on the economic consequences of halting fishing derbies in Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs than the economic consequences of halting the potential spread of AIS. However, the past legislative session up-geared the State’s efforts by increasing the budget of the State’s AIS program. However, that increase has, in part been paid by the defunding of the FBC at the recent special session of the legislature.

“The State has finally come to grips with the importance of keeping the aquatic invasive species, the mussels out of the Flathead Basin,” said Natural Resources Department Director Rich Janssen. “We’re doing our part. We communicate with the State on a weekly basis to keep abreast of the AIS prevention effort.”

“Why are we taking a 100 percent hit when everyone else takes a 10 percent cut?” FBC Executive Director Caryn Miske posed the question recently at the FBC meeting at the Lake County Courthouse. “I am not optimistic about the future but there is always a silver lining. The pro is that without funding we can go into the 2019 legislative session unfettered, the con is we have no funding until the next legislative budget is set.”

The con won out at the recent special legislation session.

“The (DNRC) Montana Department Natural Resources and Conservation can cut FBC funding out of its budget but it can’t simply dissolve the Commission — it was a created by the legislature,” Miske said, adding that the FBC will continue to exist legally but will not be funded.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Bureau Chief Tom Woolf, said the State takes the AIS issue seriously and increased the budget to combat the potential infestation spread.

Woolf has been on the job for six months. He comes from Idaho where the AIS program has been in place for quite a while and considered an example of a competent and comprehensive AIS program.

“Due to the measures taken at the last legislative session the AIS program more than doubled over night,” Woolf said. The State had a staff this summer of 160 and more than 30 inspection stations at vital state locations at highways and water bodies. “To pivot and pull it all together in such a short time is quite an accomplishment.”

Woolf said this past summer’s AIS effort was a success that has to be measured for what worked efficiently, what needs to be improved on and what should be added. To do that the State will not be the sole source of input and decisions.

Woolf said there were more than 80,000 watercraft and mooring inspections conducted this summer as well as more than 13,000 water samples taken from water bodies and water ways.

“We will be working closely with tribes, groups and other stakeholders,” Woolf said, adding that the State and Indian tribes have worked well together. He emphasized the importance of the message the public hears. “The things — public information and education — that go out to the public has to be standardize so we are all on the same page with our message.” 

Germaine White, NRD Education and Information officer, said the CSKT will continue its effort to halt the AIS spread.

“We take our responsibility to halt the spread seriously because of the profound negative impact of the mussels,” she said. “We want to establish an impenetrable barrier, a defensible line, a redundant approach to protect the head waters. We are educating people, keeping them informed, and inspecting watercraft at inspection stations. The public is our best asset, best allies. Keeping them informed fosters their understanding. This is water; we all need it; can’t live without it. There is no substitute. This is an epic challenge that we take seriously. We will work tirelessly with others to halt the spread.”

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