Updated: March 17, 12:30 p.m.
Faced with the threat of harmful invasive mussels that could infest pristine lakes and rivers, the National Park Service is only allowing hand-propelled watercraft, such as kayaks, canoes and paddleboards, on the water in Glacier National Park this year.
These types of non-trailered boats must undergo mandatory inspections before entering the water. Privately owned motorboats and trailered watercraft will be prohibited in Glacier Park in 2017, the agency announced March 17.
Hand-propelled boats will be allowed on Lake McDonald and in the North Fork beginning May 15 and in the remaining areas of the park beginning June 1.
Parks Canada, the agency that overseas Canada’s national parks, is following suit and enacting similar regulations at Waterton Lakes National Park, which connects with Glacier National Park at the U.S.-Canada border. The Canadian government is only allowing hand-propelled watercraft in Waterton while prohibiting motorized boats for the time being.
The watercraft restrictions are in place while a comprehensive assessment of the threat from invasive non-native mussels is underway. Among other measures, officials are undergoing a comprehensive testing of waters in the park and elsewhere in Montana for the presence of quagga and zebra mussels.
The minuscule mussels, which cling to boats and other watercraft and can colonize rapidly, threaten ecological and economic consequences. If an infestation were to spread into the Columbia River Basin, officials have estimated that affected states and provinces would be faced with severe and costly mitigation efforts for infrastructure such as irrigation canals, hydroelectric dams, and utility systems. The first discovery of mussel larvae in Montana occurred last year in Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs east of the Continental Divide, leading Glacier National Park to close all of its waters to boating. Blackfeet tribal leaders also have closed reservation waters to all watercraft.
“We are continuing to evaluate the emerging threat of aquatic invasive mussels to Glacier’s lakes and streams,” said Jeff Mow, superintendent of Glacier Park. “To prepare for lake recreation after the spring thaw, we are implementing a rigorous inspection process for human-powered boats, which have a lower risk of transporting these harmful mussels. This will allow many out of town visitors and local residents to continue enjoying this very popular activity in the park.”
The park’s threat assessment activities will continue through spring and summer, including testing of samples taken in Glacier’s lakes and lakes and reservoirs across Montana this summer as waters warm. Glacier will update the public with any findings and conclusions available when testing results are available later next fall.
The only recreational motorized watercraft allowed in the park this year will be the concession tour boats and the concession motorboat rentals. These boats remain in the park year-round and have not been launched on other bodies of water outside the park, nor will they, NPS officials said.
Glacier National Park sits at the headwaters of three continental-scale watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean, Hudson’s Bay, and the Gulf of Mexico. Contamination of park waters by invasive mussels would mean not only devastating effects on the park’s thriving and diverse aquatic ecosystem, but also detrimental impacts to recreation, waterways and communities downstream.
Hand-powered boat users will be required to have their boats certified mussel-free by Glacier staff under a new inspection program with stations in four locations in the park. The inspection stations will be located on the west side of the park in Apgar Village (for Lake McDonald and North Fork area lakes), and the east side of the park at Two Medicine, St. Mary, and Many Glacier Ranger Stations.
With additional funding in 2017 through the Glacier National Park Conservancy and a match from the NPS Centennial program, the goal is to provide additional capacity for inspections in more remote locations, the NPS said.
In previous years, hand-propelled watercraft users were required to complete an AIS-free self-certification form before launching into Glacier’s lakes.
The park is coordinating its response to the discovery of invasive mussels in the state with Montana’s Mussel Response team, the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, Waterton Lakes National Park, the Flathead Basin Commission, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe, the province of Alberta, the City of Whitefish, and all the states downstream on the Columbia River.
For more information about boating procedures, location of inspection stations in the park, and hours of operation, click here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Source: Glacier National Park
Q. Why did Glacier National Park close its lakes to boating in November 2016?
A. Glacier closed its waters on an interim basis because the state of Montana detected invasive mussels in Tiber and Canyon Ferry Reservoirs east of the park. This protective action is the first response to such a threat in the park’s aquatic invasive species response plan developed in 2014.
Q. Why would zebra/quagga mussels be a problem in Glacier’s waters?
A. Invasive mussels have created devastating economic, ecological and recreational consequences for communities where they occur. They reproduce quickly and grow in numbers to infest and damage water pipes, docks and other lake infrastructure, and irrigation systems. Mussels consume microscopic food sources in lake waters that are critical to the natural food chain of native aquatic life including fish. Mussels also strip critical food sources from the water, reducing its availability to support other aquatic life, such as fish populations. As non-native creatures, they also interfere with the ecology and environment of lakes and compete for food and habitat with native species. Finally, invasive mussels are a significant detriment to communities that rely on water-based recreation as part of their economic and tourism livelihood.
Q. Why is Glacier Park allowing paddled watercraft but not motorboats?
A. Kayaks, paddleboards, inflatable rafts and other hand-powered boats have few places in which water can remain from a previous use without easily being found and emptied. Invasive mussels and their larvae can survive in such residual boat water in transit from contaminated water bodies elsewhere to Glacier’s uninfested waters. Motorboats have mechanical compartments, live wells and other catchments in which leftover, mussel-contaminated water may collect and remain hidden. It can be more difficult to spot and empty this residue from such boats.
Q. How long will motorboats be prohibited on Glacier’s waters?
A. The park is assessing the risk of contamination to its lakes after invasive mussels were found in Montana east of the park in November 2016. This summer, the process will rely heavily on water sampling by the state and park inspection of all hand-power watercraft at least through the 2017 boating season. Results of water testing and new DNA-based inspection/detection technology, as well as future tools yet to be developed, may influence if and when motorized watercraft are allowed back on park waters.
Q. How will the non-motorized boat inspections work?
A. Through the mandatory permit system, park inspectors will examine every kayak, canoe, paddleboard or other hand-powered craft. In boat inspection terms, this means each vessel or device must be “Cleaned, Drained and Dry” when it arrives at the inspection station. Inspectors will ask when and where the boat was last used to determine if it was recently in contaminated waters. Boats found to have been in such waters recently (e.g., the Missouri River drainage) will not be permitted until they have been dry and out of the waterbody for at least 5 days.
Q. Where will the inspection stations be?
A. Glacier will have four primary inspection stations for self-propelled watercraft, at Apgar, Two Medicine, St. Mary, and Many Glacier. Limited inspections may be available in remote areas on a case by case basis. That service will depend on availability and resources to provide park staff inspectors. Those and other details of Glacier’s inspection program are still being developed and finalized.