In an effort to combat invasive mussels, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks is creating a new bureau devoted to managing the prevention, detection and control of the harmful aquatic species.
FWP announced Feb. 10 the new bureau will be part of the agency’s fisheries division and said a nationwide search is underway for a supervisor. The agency hopes to have the new bureau operational in March.
“Aquatic invasive species pose an enormous risk to Montana’s waters, economy, and way of life,” said FWP Fisheries Division Administrator Eileen Ryce. “The increasing scope and complexity of managing these threats requires a more comprehensive approach.”
FWP officials said the new bureau will focus on all aspects of AIS prevention, including early detection, rapid response, control, outreach and vector management.
State officials are responding to the first detection of aquatic invasive mussels in Montana after larvae were discovered last fall in water samples. Further testing confirmed the presence in Tiber Reservoir. Ongoing sampling and testing efforts turned up suspect water samples in Canyon Ferry Reservoir, the Missouri River below Toston Dam, and the Milk River.
The miniscule mussels, which cling to boats and other watercraft and can colonize rapidly, threaten ecological and economic consequences. Once zebra and quagga mussels become established in a water body, they are impossible to fully eradicate. Once they populate a body of water, mussels quickly clog pipes, ruin boat motors and damage aquatic recreational equipment. They also cover boat docks and rocky beaches, creating hazardous conditions for swimmers, boaters and other users. Irrigation systems are quickly clogged by mussel infestation and municipal and utility systems are also heavily damaged.
In January, leaders with Montana’s Joint Mussel Response Implementation Team presented a series of recommendations to the Montana Legislature to address prevention, detection and control efforts, including the creation of an AIS management bureau within FWP. Other recommendations included additional mandatory Montana watercraft inspection stations; deployment of watercraft decontamination stations at Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs; and doubling sample collection to more than 1,500 taken from more than 200 waterbodies, all of which will fall under the management of the new bureau chief.
The AIS bureau chief will be responsible for the rapid response to AIS detections, which will often require coordination among multiple agencies, partners, and stakeholders, while mobilizing and redirecting resources to address threats. The Incident Command System, used in Montana under Gov. Steve Bullock’s natural resource emergency executive order last November, will become a standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of emergency responses for specific AIS detections in the future.
Applications for the new bureau supervisor are due Feb. 28. The position is listed at an hourly salary of $36.30.
FWP is also recruiting inspection and laboratory technicians for the upcoming season. The seasonal jobs, which offer an hourly salary of roughly $13 along with benefits, will generally run from April through October.