State Ramps Up Aquatic Invasive Species Program

By Beacon Staff

Boaters can expect more checkpoints and reminders calling on them to inspect, clean and dry their watercrafts this summer, as Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Department of Agriculture ramp up their fight against aquatic invasive species.

In 2009, the state Legislature passed the Aquatic Invasive Species Act and set aside $660,000, mostly for the Department of Agriculture and some for FWP.

The state’s aquatic invasive – or nuisance – species program then received additional funding from sources such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Eileen Ryce, aquatic invasive species coordinator for FWP.

While state officials held public meetings and launched some outreach programs last year, it wasn’t until this summer that funding allowed for more widespread and concentrated efforts, Ryce said.

Now there are billboards, advertisements and bumper stickers across the state proclaiming: “Inspect. Clean. Dry.” Preventing and managing the spread of nuisance species starts with boaters abiding by that mantra, Ryce said.

“It’s not a new effort; it’s more of an organized effort,” Ryce said. “We launched a much larger campaign.

The state’s efforts to combat aquatic invasive species revolve around education – getting the word out about what types of species are harmful, how to stop them from coming here and how to handle the ones already here. This is achieved through public meetings, check stations at boat ramps and fishing accesses, and early-detection programs.

Invasive species, both plants and critters, latch on to boats, waders and anything else that comes through the water. Sometimes they don’t let go until they’re transported to another body of water, maybe even across state borders.

While FWP sets up check stations to make sure boats are properly cleaned and not carrying anything harmful, Ryce said her agency isn’t looking to levy fines, even though it has the power to do so.

If a boat has Eurasian Watermilfoil or some other undesirable, the check station worker will point it out to the boat owner and then decontaminate it. Then the boat owner is supplied with information.

“We want to educate; we’ve never even issued a warning,” Ryce said. “Everyone we’ve worked with has been very cooperative.”

Zebra and quagga mussels are among the biggest concerns, as they can damage boats and ecosystems alike. They haven’t yet arrived in Montana’s wilds, but they’re closing in fast, Ryce said. Just recently, invasive mussels were discovered in a river in North Dakota, the first time, Ryce said, the mussels have been found in a state neighboring Montana.

Watercraft checks have also found boats with mussels in Montana. Those boats were caught and cleaned before entering water, but Ryce said not all can be caught. With the increased awareness, Ryce hopes the boat owners catch themselves.

“We know more than likely that contaminated boats are entering the state,” she said. “We’re never going to be able to stop every boat, but it’s really simple to clean and dry your boat.”

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