FWP steps up the fight against invasive mussels

Source: KXLH
Click here to read the article: http://www.kxlh.com/story/34878914/fwp-steps-up-the-fight-against-invasive-mussels

By Jonathon Ambarian – MTN News

HELENA -Boaters in Montana could find themselves stopped at more watercraft inspection stations this summer.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has proposed tighter regulations on boaters as a way to address the threat from invasive mussels.

“The main thing that these rules are going to do is help us enforce compliance with inspection and decontamination,” said Eileen Ryce, FWP’s fisheries division administrator.

Under the proposed new rules, all boats coming out of Tiber Reservoir or Canyon Ferry Lake would have to be decontaminated. All boats coming into Montana would be inspected, along with all those crossing west over the Continental Divide. No one would be allowed to transport any lake water, and no one leaving Tiber or Canyon Ferry could take any water.

Inspection and decontamination stations will be set up around the state, operating from dawn to dusk. Ryce says FWP will hire 100 more seasonal staff this year than last year, in order to staff them.

The new steps come after invasive mussel larvae were found in water samples from Tiber Reservoir last fall. Samples from Canyon Ferry, the Missouri River upstream from Townsend and the Milk River downstream from Nelson Reservoir came back “suspect” for larvae, meaning one test was positive, but FWP wasn’t able to replicate it.

Ryce says FWP is concerned enough that they are treating Canyon Ferry the same as Tiber.

“We think it would be irresponsible to do less, quite frankly,” she said.

Officials say cleaning, draining and drying a boat after it’s been in the water is the best way to prevent the spread of mussels. For some craft, that could mean drying out an inside compartment by hand or using a chemical cleaner.

FWP is now taking comments from the public on the proposed rules. Ryce says the agency wants to know if there’s anything they’ve missed or need to improve in the policies.

“By far the majority of comments have been very supportive,” she said. “There has been a few issues mentioned that are going to help us clarify some of the language.”

On Tuesday night, FWP took more comments at a public meeting in Helena. Everyone who spoke supported efforts to step up enforcement, but several wanted them to go further.

Thompson Smith, chair of the Flathead Basin Commission, questioned whether stations open only part of the day, and only on main highways, could really catch all uninspected boats. He called for all boats to be fully decontaminated when they cross the Divide.

Smith pointed to an inspection station near Browning, run by the Blackfeet Nation. He said they have already found two suspect boats, on their first day of operation.

“Those boats had traveled all the way from Tennessee to Browning without ever being inspected,” said Smith.

Others raised questions about FWP’s proposed “local boater program.” It would register certain boaters who frequently use Tiber or Canyon Ferry. They would then be able to skip decontamination, unless they travel to another body of water.

FWP legal counsel Aimee Hawkaluk, who serves on the agency’s decontamination team, says there would be separate registries for Tiber and for Canyon Ferry. Registered boaters would have to go through an educational course and sign a contract with the department, before receiving a decal that they would need to place on the side of their boat. She says that decal would serve as a “red flag” to inspectors at any other body of water, to make sure that boat was checked.

Ryce says one benefit of the program is that it will speed up the lines at decontamination stations for other boaters.

Whatever their view on the details, everyone in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting agreed on one thing: Montana needs to address the mussel issue now.

The public comment period on the proposed regulations will be open through Friday. If you’d like to submit comments, you can email them to fwpexotics@mt.gov or mail them to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, Fisheries Division, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701.