Blackfeet tribal leaders have reopened reservation waters to watercraft but are limiting motorized boats to four lakes.
Earlier this month the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council approved new regulations throughout the reservation in response to the threat of aquatic invasive mussels, which were detected in Tiber Reservoir and are suspected at Canyon Ferry Reservoir.
All boats are required to receive an official inspection before launching into a lake or river on the reservation. The tribal council is allowing nonmotorized boats, such as kayaks and canoes, in all bodies of water.
Motorized boats are only allowed in St. Mary, Duck, Mission and Four Horn lakes. Boats with ballast tanks, or live wells, are prohibited on all waters. Felt sole wading boots are also prohibited.
Tribal leaders closed all reservation waters last November after the invasive mussels were discovered.
“We’re trying to accommodate the fishermen as much as we can but also protect the waters,” Blackfeet Fish and Wildlife Director Dona Rutherford said.
There are three inspection stations throughout the reservation: one along U.S. Highway 2 west of Browning; one along Highway 2 west of Cut Bank; and one along Highway 89 at the Birch Creek Bridge.
The Browning station is open 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and hours will be extended to 9 p.m. as summer arrives, Rutherford said.
The Cut Bank and Birch Creek stations are open 7 a.m.- 5 p.m.
If a watercraft leaves a body of water, it is required to receive a new inspection. Any watercraft arriving from the Missouri River basin could be subject to a mandatory decontamination, which is free of charge.
Rutherford said the initial water sample results from Mission and Four Horn lakes were negative for AIS. Results from Duck and St. Mary lakes should be arriving by the end of the month, she said.
The Blackfeet Reservation is the latest area to implement new regulations in light of the AIS threat. 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.
The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have restricted motorized watercraft to only Flathead Lake and Lower Flathead River on the Flathead Indian Reservation. All watercraft must be inspected and cleared for launching into any Flathead Reservation water body by a certified boat inspector.
The minuscule mussels, which cling to boats and other watercraft and can colonize rapidly, threaten to have ecological and economic consequences in the last stronghold in America without a devastating infestation. Other lakes across the U.S., including the Great Lakes and Lake Mead, have fallen victim to mussel infestation, which leads to cascading effects throughout the ecosystem, including deleterious impacts to the food web and water clarity. Most noticeably, mussels promote the growth and spread of deadly algae blooms.