CSKT vows to use every tool available to keep invasive mussels o - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

CSKT vows to use every tool available to keep invasive mussels out of Flathead Basin

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While the threat of zebra and quagga mussels getting into the Columbia watershed has been a concern for years, discovery of mussel larva in Central Montana last fall has set off big alarms for agencies across the region. And while those larger response plans are still being developed, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes is among the most aggressive, announcing a full watercraft closure and emergency restrictions last week.

That's coupled with a full educational campaign already rolling out.

"We have developed a PSA that we're going to be launching on the radio. We have them that will be going out on the television and we plan on getting those out in the movie theaters as well. We're open to suggestions," said CSKT Water Quality Specialist Georgia Smies. "If there is any other tool that we can use to help our visiting population we want to be able to inform them about this risk as well."

At a public meeting in Polson this week, tribal staff heard support for building on what's already worked in the nearly 30 other states where mussels already causing problems, including a direction for boats to be cleaned immediately.

"And one of the first lessons they learned was the need to clean, drain, dry where you were. Don't spread it. Don't wait until you get to that next lake and rinse that off into a new water body that does not have these organisms," Smies said.

And while we mainly think of Flathead Lake being contaminated, the tribe is just as worried about the extensive network of reservoirs and small lakes on the reservation. All trailered watercraft must be checked by certified inspectors.

Tribal officials say it's not only going to take education, but cooperation from everyone if there's going to be success in this battle against these invasive species.

Enforcement is still being worked out at the state level. But based on other locations, fines could be in the hundreds of dollars. Tribal officials say in British Columbia, fines for transporting invasive species range as high as $10,000.

But as the Fish, Wildlife, Recreation and Conservation Director Tom McDonald has pointed out, the real cost is losing our pristine waters.

"If Flathead Lake, for instance, was the last lake in the United States that was un-infested, what would you do to protect it?" 

Tests have shown no evidence of mussels yet on Flathead Lake.

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