Biologists work to prevent invasive mussels in Flathead Lake

Biologists work to prevent invasive mussels in Flathead Lake

Source: NBC Montana
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KALISPELL, Mont. – A growing problem that started on the east coast hit Montana recently, and now biologists are doing what they can to keep it away from Flathead Lake.

Invasive mussels are spreading in the western United States and already officials have found them in two locations in Montana. If they reach the Flathead they could bring major repercussions with them.

Experts say invasive mussels can consume up to 80 percent of a waterbody’s food source, leaving other animals like fish to starve.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks reports fishing contributes more than $16 million to the Flathead economy, so it’s not hard to see why residents want to keep them out of area lakes.

A progression shows the spread coming from the east toward Montana. Right now two Montana bodies of water are contaminated — Tiber Reservoir and Canyon Ferry Lake. So far Flathead Lake is clean.

“We collected over 120 samples from 30 sites around Flathead Lake. The state this summer only collected 10 samples from Flathead Lake, so we saw the need to collect additional samples with urgency once we heard about the detections,” biological station assistant director Tom Bansak said.

Bansak says there are two different kinds of mussels Montanans should worry about — zebra and quagga. They are very similar and even related, and when young enough, experts can’t tell which is which.

“At present we don’t know which one is here in Montana. The four positive detections by the state of Montana were of the juveniles using microscopes,” Bansak said.

According to boaters NBC Montana spoke with, learning about the threat now is critical, before it’s too late.

“For me to worry about it, it’s almost like you would have to know that there is a problem, because there hasn’t been a problem. So you don’t know about the problem until you actually have the problem. It’s not very preventive, but for something that you haven’t had in the past it’s almost like they’re discovering something new, and it’s two hours away,” Robert Carette said.

Prevention information can be found on the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website, but the biological station says the biggest key to prevention lies with boat users.

“These mussels travel predominantly on our boats and trailers, so the vector of spread over land is people. So it’s entirely within our hands — society — to stop them from spreading,” Bansak said.

Biologists add that in other water bodies in the nation the mussels decrease shoreline property values by almost 20 percent.