FWP director: Goals ‘accomplished’ in war against aquatic invasive speciesSource: Great Falls Tribune
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HELENA – More than 58,000 watercraft were inspected since April in Montana with 16 boats found to have zebra and quagga mussels and 80 citations issued in a battle against aquatic invasive species, prompting members of state panel Wednesday to ask how to repeat and finance the same effort in the future.
“Our goals and objectives have been accomplished,” Martha Williams, Fish, Wildlife and Parks director told members of the Environmental Quality Council, adding that her department had risen to the challenge.
Williams said the stations would close Oct. 15. The programs would be evaluated and considered for next year.
The report came after Gov. Steve Bullock issued an executive order in November declaring a statewide natural resource emergency for Montana water bodies due to the detection of the larvae of invasive aquatic mussels at Tiber Reservoir and suspected detections at Canyon Ferry Reservoir and the Milk and Missouri rivers.
Bullock also signed an executive order to establish an interagency rapid response team.
Officials said Wednesday that to date, no mussel larvae have been verified in Montana samples.
They said snorkeling surveys have been conducted and mussel sniffing dogs would be used.
SB 363, sponsored by Sen. Chas Vincent, R-Libby, who now heads the EQC, passed the Legislature with bipartisan support and provided FWP with $6 million to increase the number of inspection and decontamination stations and to expand public education and outreach efforts.
Funding was supported through the Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Pass purchased by anglers, federal funds and a new electrical energy fee on hydroelectric facilities in Montana.
Rep. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, who also worked on invasive species bills during the 2017 legislative session, thanked participants for their interagency cooperation.
He said people have asked him what if they do all this work and nothing is found.
“I say rejoice and celebrate and continue these practices,” he said.
Montana is a headwater state for three regionally significant river systems and the economic, environmental and recreational impacts of an invasive aquatic mussel infestation has national implications, the governor’s office said.
In other parts of the country, such as the Midwest, mussel populations have impaired hydroelectric, municipal and agricultural water infrastructure and also impacted fisheries by turning lakes sterile.
Adult zebra and quagga mussels, which can grow to an inch and a half in size, are known for clogging pipes and other structures, interrupting the flow of water used for hydroelectric power, municipal use and agriculture.
Both mussel species are filter feeders and consume large portions of microscopic plants that small fish eat, which, in turn, can affect larger fish such as walleye and trout.
Nick Gevock of the Montana Wildlife Federation said Wednesday that funding the programs will be an issue for lawmakers to deal with in 2019.
Williams said the state was looking into potential funding sources.
Vincent asked fellow members of the panel to consider other funding mechanisms to be discussed at a future meeting.