RAVALLI — Heretofore a record number of 50 mussel fouled watercraft have been intercepted at Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks watercraft inspection stations. The 50th mussel-fouled watercraft was intercepted Thursday, August 26, at the Nashua station on US Highway 2. It was last launched in Lake Erie and was being commercially transferred to Kalispell. (see related story here.)
Among that 50 tally are four mussel-fouled watercraft that were found this summer at the Flathead Nation managed inspection station at Ravalli. Despite that or because of that it’s been a good season at the Flathead Nation stations at Thompson Falls and Ravalli. The Ravalli station has conducted more than 15,000 inspections and Thompson Falls station nearly 4,000
“It’s been a good season, our team did well,” said Flathead Nation Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Coordinator Katie Finley. “Even though it was smokey much of the summer — we had to shut down Thompson Falls for three days — it’s been a pretty busy season. It has gone by fast and is starting to slow down now with the cooler weather.”
The Ravalli station is literally the last bastion of defense of northbound watercraft on US Highway 93 that mostly drop anchor at Flathead Lake. The Thompson Falls station is a key defensive cog of eastbound watercraft traffic on Montana Highway 200 with many watercraft also heading for Flathead Lake.
Finley said the FWP mussel prevention Clean, Drain and Dry personal responsibility message has taken hold in the state. It is also beginning to make significant inroads in targeted locations and states where much of the out of state boating traffic emanates. That is very important because all major river basins in the United States are infested with zebra and/or quagga mussels — the Columbia River Basin is the only one that isn’t.
“The AIS prevention message has snowballed. We are a part of passing that message to boating travelers that stop here,” Finley said. “Everybody here is doing a spectacular job inspecting and passing that message. They are very motivated to be a part of the big prevention picture. It instills pride in them and I think boaters that practice Clean, Drain and Dry feel good about doing their part. It makes the inspection stops for them shorter.”
Another key component of the Ravalli inspection station is the on-site presence of tribal game wardens.
“We are very lucky to have the wardens here,” Finley said. The eight tribal game wardens rotate the one-day inspection duties at Ravalli. The wardens quickly resolve drive-bys by apprehension, warnings, education, and at times citations. Anyone transporting motorized or nonmotorized boats into Montana is required to stop at all open watercraft inspection stations before launching. Failing to stop at an inspection station can result in a fine of up to $500.
Finley said that the communications with the FWP AIS Bureau has continued to improve, which makes her and the inspector staff jobs easier.
According to the latest statistics posted on the FWP Aquatic Invasive Species Bureau dashboard 96,615 inspections have been conducted. That included 22,001 inspections on high-risk boats that were last launched in states with known AIS infestations. Most of those have come from the Midwest and Southwest. The Clearwater Junction station has conducted the most inspections with more than 26,000. Last year at this time 112,300 inspections were conducted.
“I am sad to see the season coming to an end,” said supervisor Lacey Parker. “It will amp up this Labor Day weekend then after that it will be mainly Fall Mack Days traffic and people stopping by for an end of the season inspection.”
The end of the season inspection means next season a boat will not have to through the inspection process as long as the seal stays on the boat, an indication that it hasn’t been launched since the previous season. Parker added that Flathead Lake marina owners rely on the proof of inspections at Ravalli and Thompson Falls before allowing them to be launched at and/or pulled out of the lake at their marinas.
“Some of us really appreciate what we’re doing here and at Thompson Falls,” Parker said. “Since the inspector appreciation week, we’ve had tons of support from the locals. Many of them stop by and thank us for what we’re doing. People drive by and give us a shoutout and honk horns. That is why I love being here and doing what we’re doing.”
In all there are 19 AIS inspectors that man and woman the Thompson Falls and Ravalli inspections stations. The Thompson Falls station will shutdown Saturday, September 18. The Ravalli station will transition from 24/7 coverage to 12 hour coverage on September 18, and shutdown on Saturday, October 16.