Big changes in store for Montana boaters this springSource: Great Falls Tribune
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Karl Puckett , firstname.lastname@example.org
Townsend – It was 43 degrees at Broadwater Bay on southern end of Canyon Ferry Lake north of here, which wasn’t too chilly for Jerry and Cindy Ryll and their two springer spaniels, Buster and Sassy, for a day of fishing.
“We like the lake,” Jerry Ryll said. “Camping is good here. It’s not crowded.”
Now the popular boat launch is a designated mussel containment zone because of confirmation last fall of zebra and quagga mussel larvae in Montana waters. The mussels, which are not native to Montana, are considered an invasive aquatic species.
This spring, to contain their spread, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is requiring mandatory inspections of motorized and nonmotorized watercraft coming off Canyon Ferry.
Same with Tiber Reservoir south of Chester.
If a boat fails the inspection, requiring a pressure wash with 140-degree water, it could take 30 minutes or longer, according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
“It’s going to affect me with a traffic jam getting in and out of the lake,” Ryll said.
The inspection stations and cleaning stations are among big changes planned this spring across Montana to contain the spread of mussels.
No other boats were in sight when the Rylls visited Silos Recreation Area and Marina on Canyon Ferry earlier this week.
But in several weeks, there will be days when the parking lot is jammed with 300 boat trailers, and each boat coming off the lake will need to get in line for inspection, said Adam Strainer, a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries technician.
“Initially, it will be a fairly big behavior change for folks wanting to get their watercraft on Canyon Ferry,” Strainer said of the inspections.
He was manning the watercraft inspection station just across the parking lot where the Rylls were launching their boat on Broadwater Bay.
At watercraft inspection stations, risk assessments will be conducted of boats leaving Canyon Ferry and Tiber.
Strainer likens it to a game-check station where hunters stop in to report their harvest upon returning from the field.
“As this point, we’re most concerned with standing water,” Strainer said.
Invasive species can get transported in that water.
Boat operators will be able to speed up the process if they drain water from the boat, bilge, live wells, engine, internal compartments by removing plugs before they get to the inspection station, Strainer said.
The vast majority of boaters who follow the recommended advice — “clean, drain and dry” — will not have to go through the decontamination process, he said.
“Prepare for this to be part of your weekend trip,” Strainer recommended.
Boats of owners who don’t heed the advice will be cleaned with the hot water sprayed from wands that look like those used at car washes.
“Exposure to the water temperature effectively kills them,” Strainer said of the mussel larvae.
In fall 2016, Tiber tested positive for invasive mussel larvae, the first water body in Montana to test positive.
A water body is labeled “positive” when mussel larvae is detected in multiple samples, said Tom Boos, FWP’s aquatic invasive species coordinator.
That was followed by a “suspect” test at Broadwater Bay in Canyon Ferry where the Rylls launched their boat.
A water body is labeled “suspect” when there is one detection of an aquatic invasive species from two or more samples, but not a second detection, Boos said.
As adults, fingernail-sized female zebra mussels produce 100,000 to 500,000 eggs a year that develop into microscopic larva that eventually grow and form shells.
Using tiny fibers called “byssal threads,” they attach to any firm surface. That includes boat motors and hulls, rocks, irrigation intakes, pipes and dams.
“If the boaters are patient, and understand it is important, then I think we’ll be OK,” said Sharon Walker, who owns the Canyon Ferry Silos KOA and Flamingo Grill and also manages the docks and campgrounds at Silos Recreation Area and Marina for Broadwater County.
The county manages Silos Recreation Area and Marina in partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation.
It’s the most popular access to Canyon Ferry Lake, where 100,000 angler days are recorded annually making it one of the top five most popular fishing spots in Montana. Walker thinks most boaters are willing to sacrifice some time for the greater good.
“For the majority of people, it’s not going to be a huge deal,” said Laura Obert, a Broadwater County commissioner of the inspection stations. “For the Walleye festival, it’s going to be a very big deal.”
All of the events for that festival, held the weekend before the Fourth of July, are conducted at Broadwater Bay, she noted.
People running businesses that rely on lake traffic are worried they could take an economic hit if anglers choose to go elsewhere, she said.
“Canyon Ferry is open for business this year,” Obert said.
The inspection areas are not “decontamination stations,” says Obert, who prefers cleaning stations because, she notes, mussels have not been positively confirmed in Canyon Ferry.
Walker says she’s taking 15 to 20 calls a day about the inspection stations. One of the misconceptions is that chemicals will be used to clean the boats, which isn’t the case. Only water will be used, FWP says.
If mussels are in Canyon Ferry, Walker said, “they need to be dealt with and everybody needs to help.”
While new rules will require boaters to use the boat ramps FWP designates as open, people who only use their boats in Canyon Ferry or Tiber can get certified as “local boaters.” That will allow them to bypass recurring inspections in the designated mussel containment zones.
The watercraft inspection and cleaning station at Broadwater Bay was set up March 18.
It’s one of two in operation now and four inspection stations that ultimately will be in place on Canyon Ferry for the season.
Tiber will have two inspection and cleaning stations.
A broader effort to contain the spread of mussels includes inspection stations at the border and along the Continental Divide. The goal of the stations along the Continental Divide is preventing mussels from jumping from the Missouri River east of the Divide to the Columbia River in western Montana.
“The concern we have is we want to make sure boats from the Missouri are not coming to the Columbia uninspected or not fully decontaminated for obvious reasons,” said Caryn Miske, executive director of the Kalispell-based Flathead Basin Commission.
The commission, which is attached to the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, was formed to protect the waters that flow in and out of western Montana’s Flathead River Basin, the headwaters of the Columbia River that flows to the Pacific Ocean.
“If the Flathead is fouled, it’s all going downstream from there,” Miske said.
Last year, the Basin, which raises its own money, contributed $80,000 in an inspection station at Browning on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, the northern gateway into the Flathead.
“Our mantra here in the west is don’t be a lake hopper because we don’t know for sure what’s in our water,” she said.
Last fall, 110 samples were collected on Flathead Lake, with all the samples turning up negative, Miske said. But even in the Flathead basin, it’s not known with absolutely certainly mussels aren’t in the waters, she said.
A bill at the legislature had included language that would have allowed the Flathead Basin Commission to inspect boats prior to launch into Flathead Lake this summer, but it’s been removed, she said. “That’s really unfortunate,” Miske said.
Without that authority, the commission will need to petition FWP to pass a rule allowing it to operate the inspection stations.
One day earlier this week, the Rylls had Canyon Ferry at Broadwater Bay to themselves. The retired couple from Three Forks visits Silos recreation area almost every week to camp and fish.
Check stations aren’t new to them. They’ve encountered them in Idaho, California and Nevada.
“They actually had them before Montana,” Jerry Ryll said.
FWP needs to concentrate on boats coming in from eastern Montana because they are coming from states to the east where mussels are established, the Rylls say.
To make the inspection process quicker in Montana, they add, 24-hour inspection stations should be set up, and FWP needs to make sure they are adequately staffed.
The Joint Mussel Response Team will host open houses in April in eight northcentral Montana towns to discuss the upcoming water craft inspection season, new regulations and a local boater program certification.
Events will focus on the state’s plan to detect, contain and prevent the spread of invasive mussels.
The open houses are from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with the presentations beginning at 6:15 p.m. Local boats can be certified after the presentation. Preregistration is not required. Here are the dates and locations:
• Tuesday: Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, 4201 Giant Springs Road, Great Falls.
• Thursday: Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 215 W. Aztec Drive by the airport, Lewistown.
• Friday: Marias River Electric Coop, 910 W. Roosevelt Highway, Shelby.
• April 10: Liberty County Senior Center, 6th St. E., Chester.
• April 12: Great Northern Inn, 1345 1st St., Havre.
• April 17: Public library, 17 Main Ave. N., Choteau.
• April 18: Pondera County Shooting Sports Complex, 972 Granite St., Conrad.
• April 20: Fort Benton City Hall, 1204 Front St.