HELENA – 2018 was a big year for Montana Fish Wildlife & Parks and its aquatic invasive species program with a record number of watercrafts inspected, record number of water samples analyzed, and no mussel larvae or adult mussels detected.
“Our AIS staff and partners have done fantastic work to increase our watercraft inspection and monitoring efforts,” said Tom Woolf, AIS bureau chief for FWP. “And we are doing a better job informing boaters, anglers, irrigators, and others about what they can do to help stop AIS. “
Woolf explained, “Mussels cause serious damage to aquatic based infrastructure. So when we talk about hydroelectric plants, we talk about irrigated agriculture the economic impacts are huge. And then on top of that, your habitat impacts on native species really hits them hard and changes fisheries.”
Woolf said testing and inspection were only part of the effort with educating and informing the public about how to prevent the spread of invasive species being a big success.
“Every time we inspect a boat it’s not just looking at the boat, but it’s also educating the public making sure they’re doing their part to clean, drain and dry,” said Woolf.
He also cautioned that while no larvae were found this year, that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t present.
“Small populations can be difficult to detect and we did have that detection in 2016. Mussels cause serious damage to aquatic based infrastructure. So when we talk about hydroelectric plants, we talk about irrigated agriculture, the economic impacts are huge. And then on top of that, your habitat impacts on native species really hits them hard and changes fisheries.”
Some highlights from this boating season include:
- More than 100,000 watercraft were inspected at 35 watercraft inspection stations.
- FWP collaborated with partners statewide to operate watercraft inspection stations including: Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, Blackfeet Tribe, Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes, Garfield Conservation District, Glacier National Park, Missoula County Weed District, and Whitefish Lake Institute.
- Montana intercepted 16 out-of-state vessels with mussels.
- AIS monitoring crews surveyed 1,450 sites on 250 unique waterbodies for aquatic invasive plants and animals.
- A new population of faucet snails was discovered in Lake Frances. No other new AIS discoveries were found.
- More than 2,000 plankton samples were collected for mussel early-detection analysis. No mussel veligers or adult mussels were detected in the waters of Montana this year.
- Environmental DNA (eDNA) testing was conducted on water samples taken from Tiber Reservoir in July. No mussel DNA was found.
- Divers and mussel-sniffing dogs were also deployed at Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs in search of adult mussels. No mussels were discovered.
- FWP enforcement has issued more than 50 citations and more than 170 warnings this year related to invasive species violations.
- FWP and our partners conducted a mussel rapid response exercise on Flathead Lake to practice a coordinated response should mussels ever be detected.
Planning for next season’s AIS program is currently underway and boaters and recreators can expect to see changes next year to make the program even more efficient.
Currently, inspection stations are closed for the winter, but inspections are still offered at all the FWP regional and area offices. Persons bringing watercraft into Montana must seek an inspection prior to launching. For more information on inspections and the AIS program, visit www.cleandraindrymt.com or call 406-444-2440.
-John Riley reporting for MTN News