Tribes Announce Emergency Boating Restrictions

Tribes Announce Emergency Boating Restrictions

Source: Lake County Leader
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March 30, 2017 at 10:24 am | By Brett Berntsen

Topping a growing list of localized efforts to halt the spread of invasive mussels, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes last week unrolled emergency regulations banning motorized watercraft on all reservation waters except Flathead Lake and parts of the lower Flathead River.

“This is a paradigm shift everybody needs to be engaged in,” Tom McDonald, manager of the CSKT Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation Division said.

McDonald said the regulations target the types of vessels primarily responsible for transporting invasive zebra and quagga mussels, which were detected in Montana for the first time last year.

Human-powered craft such as canoes, kayaks, rafts and paddleboards will still be allowed on reservation waters but must undergo inspection at an aquatic invasive species check station prior to launch.

The emergency measures follow similar actions implemented by Glacier National Park earlier this month.

“We’re trying to be consistent,” McDonald said.

Aside from mandatory inspection prior to launch, McDonald said there will not be any major changes to boating on Flathead Lake and lower stretches of the Flathead River.

Under the new regulations, anybody wishing to launch a canoe, kayak, raft or other human-powered craft launched on reservation waters must pass through an inspection at least once, McDonald said.

How this will be tracked and managed, however, hinges on several bills up for debate in the state legislature.

Proposals include requiring boaters to purchase a decal and using the proceeds to help fund the operation of check stations.

At the very least, McDonald said the tribes plan to issue carbon paper receipts for boats that pass inspection.

With the current Pablo check station scheduled to move to the Ravalli area in April, McDonald said public compliance is key.

“If we want to keep waters open to boating, the amount of education needs to increase almost 100 fold,” he said.

The rules also prohibit the use of felt-soled waders and require all waterfowl hunters to dry their dogs before entering reservation waters.

According to a press release issued on March 23 announcing the new regulations, penalties for violators include criminal trespassing charges, confiscation of watercraft and suspension of recreation licenses as well as monetary fines.

“Officers will patrol and enforce closures immediately,” Brandon Couture, an investigator with CSKT Conservation Officers said in the release.

Punishment aside, McDonald said the regulations were also designed to drive home the importance of invasive species awareness among local boaters.

While people might know the risk posed by out-of-state boats, McDonald said everyday practices such as “lake hopping” between local water bodies carry additional threats.

“Those people really need to think about boating on one lake,” he said.

Preventing the spread of invasive mussels, which decimate ecosystems and clog infrastructure, has reached fever pitch since signs of larvae were detected in several central Montana water bodies last fall.

Local scientific and conservation agencies have called for a firewall along the Continental Divide to prevent the infection of Flathead Lake and the greater Columbia River Basin, one of the last mussel-free waterways in the west.

These repeated calls for action may be making an impact, with several bills addressing the issue coming before the state legislature.

Coinciding with the tribal regulations, last week Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks also unveiled new boat launch restrictions at Tiber and Canyon Ferry Reservoirs, where signs of invasive mussel larvae were first detected last fall.

Such progress is encouraging, McDonald said, but must continue into the future.

“We were dismayed up until the current proposals,” McDonald said. “The one thing I’m impressed with is the amount of nonpartisan concern there is.”