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Aquatic invasive species workshop brings together partners in Upper Columbia Basin

From Upper Columbia Conservation Commission

HELENA — The Upper Columbia Conservation Commission (UC3) co-hosted a workshop December 11- 12 in Polson with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes to meet with state agencies and partners in the Upper Columbia to assess current efforts on the ground and to enhance coordination moving forward on aquatic invasive species prevention in the Upper Columbia Basin.  

“We witnessed in this two-day workshop an unparalleled level of commitment by organizations and individuals to form new and stronger partnerships in the effort to understand, detect, prevent, monitor and eradicate aquatic invasive species in the basin,” says UC3 Chair Lori Curtis, who represents Montana’s Conservation Districts on the Commission.

“UC3 represents the Northwest’s strongest commitment to invasive species protection,” said John Tubbs, Director of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC).

In response to the invasive mussel detections in two Montana waterways last year, the 2017 Legislature established the UC3 to enhance aquatic invasive species coordination, monitoring, and rapid response efforts through increased coordination with water management agencies within the Columbia River Basin in Montana, as well as provincial and state partners in the basin.

Montana is home to the headwaters of two of the largest river systems in the United States, the Columbia and Missouri Rivers. The Columbia River Basin is the last remaining drainage free of invasive Dreissenid mussels (zebra and quagga). The UC3 was created partly to acknowledge the importance of preventing these harmful aquatic invasive species from being introduced into the Columbia Basin, and to protect the multitude of economically and environmentally important water resources of the basin. 

“We face an enormous challenge in our effort to combat aquatic invasive species,” says Curtis. “The collaborative nature of this Commission signals a new and stronger defense in the Upper Columbia Basin.”  

All UC3 member appointments to serve on the Commission have now been made by Governor Bullock to the following individuals / organizations:

• Lori Curtis, Whitefish. Qualification: representative of conservation districts. Curtis is a Flathead Conservation District Supervisor and the director of science and education at the Whitefish Lake Institute.

• Tom Woolf, Helena. Qualification: representative of the Invasive Species Council. Woolf is the Chief of the Aquatic Invasive Species Bureau at the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

• Dennis Clairmont, Pablo. Qualification: representative of Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. Clairmont represents the Pablo District on the CSKT Tribal Council.

• Mike Koopal, Whitefish. Qualification: member-at-large. Koopal is the Executive Director of the Whitefish Lake Institute. 

• Paul Kusnierz, Noxon. Qualification: representative of the hydropower utility industry. Kusnierz is a fisheries biologist at Avista Utilities. 

• Phil Matson, Columbia Falls. Qualification: representative of private landowners in the Upper Columbia Basin. Matson is a research specialist at the Flathead Biological Station.  

• Stacey Schnebel, Coram. Qualification: representative of electric cooperatives in the Upper Columbia basin. Schnebal serves on the board of the Flathead Electric Co-op and the Montana Electric Cooperatives Association.

• Chris Parrott, Kalispell. Qualification: representative of private industry. Parrott is the general manager of Jesco Marine. 

• Brian “BJ” Johnson, Kalispell. Qualification: representative of recreation organizations. Johnson is the owner and lead guide for ‘Sea Me Paddle” kayaking tours on Flathead Lake.

In addition to the appointed (voting) members listed above, the UC3 is comprised of Senator Gene Vuckovich (D - Anaconda), Representative Matt Regier (R -Kalispell), and partners such as the National Park Service (Glacier), US Forest Service, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Bureau of Reclamation, the National Resource Conservation Service, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

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