Summer time is busy time for leisure pleasures, fun and a respite for the doldrums of work. However for some summer is the work heavy season. The latter is the case of the folks on the front lines of the aquatic invasive species gauntlet at the AIS inspection stations. They have been very busy this summer. Their jobs are monumental: keeping zebra and quagga mussels from infesting the Columbia River Basin. It is the last river basin in America sans of the invasive zebra and quagga mussels.
So far, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks along with its partner agencies and groups have conducted 64,000 inspections statewide. Among the 64,000 watercraft inspected, 15,564 were vessels that last launched in states with known AIS infestation. Heretofore this summer 13 vessels with zebra or quagga mussels have been intercepted.
One of the fouled watercraft was intercepted at the Ravalli inspection station staffed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. That happened on July 28 when the Ravalli crew found the invasive mussels on a kayak that was last launched in Lake Superior.
The Tribes also staff the Plains inspection station. The Plains station has conducted 1,800 inspections and the Ravalli station has inspected 8,700 water vessels. On the high end the Clearwater station has conducted 14,500 inspections, the Ravalli station ranks second with its number of inspections. The Ravalli station is operated 24/7.
On Tuesday Casey Carnahan of Helena and on his way to Flathead Lake stopped to have his boat inspected by Kayla Gardipe and Wilbert Michel, Jr. at the Ravalli inspection station.
Carnahan said he already had his boat inspected in Helena earlier in the day and presented the paperwork to Gardipie and Michel’s perusal. They reviewed and gave the okay for Carnahan to proceed. He said he had no problems with the inspections.
“It’s good that there is this effort to keep our Montana waters clean,” he said. “I have heard a lot of bad things about the invasive mussels and what would happen to our water and economy in the news and on the FWP website. I really appreciate these folks working to keep our waters clean.”
According to FWP several new watercraft inspection stations recently opened in the last few weeks, including the Broadus inspection station on Highway 212, operated by the Powder River Conservation District. Also new is the St. Xavier inspection station on Hwy 313, operated by the Big Horn Conservation District. The Wibaux station on I-94 is now managed and operated by the Garfield Conservation District.
More than 600 plankton tow samples have been collected across the state for mussel veliger (final larval stage) early detection analysis. FWP’s AIS lab has processed 522 of those samples, and no zebra or quagga mussel veligers have been detected to date.
Also signs of another aquatic invasive species — Asian clams — were found at Lake Elmo in Billings. AIS staff conducted a thorough survey of the lake and discovered several live clams. A further delineation survey of the lake, the canal system and other connected waters is currently under way. Next steps will be determined following the survey. Asian clams do not stick to things and their impacts are not quite like zebra or quagga mussels.
The Flathead Biological Station in partnership with FWP will be conducting an intensive survey in areas of Tiber Reservoir in early August. The survey will utilize both molecular (eDNA) and microscopy methods in an attempt to get a better picture of whether invasive mussels are still in Tiber Reservoir and where they are located. No evidence of invasive mussels was found in Tiber in 2018. Forty-five plankton tow samples have been collected and analyzed so far for Tiber this season and no mussel veligers have been detected.
Also water recreationists should be mindful of the new law that requires motorboats with ballast and bladder bags to be decontaminated when transported into Montana from out of state or when traveling west across the Continental Divide.