Watercraft Inspection Stations Open in Northwest Montana

State law requires all motorists hauling watercraft to stop at inspection stations

By Beacon Staff

Watercraft inspection stations are opening across Montana as the effort continues to protect lakes and other waterways from aquatic invasive species.

The first two stations opened in the Flathead region this week, near Pablo and Browning. The stations are open earlier than usual. Typically, the stations open Memorial Day weekend.

“Operating stations early in the season will allow us to intercept snowbirds as they return from places like Lake Mead, which are heavily infested with invasive mussels,” said Caryn Miske, executive director of the Flathead Basin Commission.

State law requires all motorists hauling watercraft — from trailers with motorboats or inflatable rafts to canoes and kayaks perched atop cars and pick-up trucks — to stop at inspection stations. Most inspections take fewer than five minutes but failure to stop could lead to a $135 fine.

Inspectors look for a variety of invasive species, including zebra and quagga mussels, that could devastate waterways. Once introduced, non-native invasive mussels rapidly blanket all hard surfaces from shore lines to manmade infrastructure. The proliferation of invasive mussels costs the U.S. millions of dollars annually. Invasive mussels foul beaches, clog dams and boat motors, drive up utility rates and result in adverse fish and wildlife impacts, according to wildlife officials. Once introduced, mussels are virtually impossible to eliminate from aquatic ecosystems.

In order to bolster existing AIS prevention efforts, in the fall of 2015 the FBC adopted a plan to better protect the Flathead region from unwanted AIS. The goal of the plan was to bolster perimeter defense in the basin by opening the Highway 93, Clearwater Junction and Browning Watercraft Inspection Stations in early March 2016, Miske said. In order to accomplish this goal the FBC needed to raise well over $100,000 over the course of six months. The effort to open inspection stations early was given a major boost in December 2015 when the Flathead Electric Coop (FEC’s) generously donated the funding needed to open the Clearwater Junction station in early March.

More recently, the FBC secured additional funding for early season operation in Browning via a Conoco-Phillips grant. Combining the Conoco funding with existing funding from the Flathead National Forest/Bureau of Reclamation-Hungry Horse, the FBC will open the Browning station this week, and mange the station through September. Last year, the Browning station, operated in partnership with the Blackfeet Tribe, intercepted 40 percent of all mussel fouled boats detected in Montana.

In February, the FBC obtained permission from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council to operate a Highway 93 station at Pablo. This station would inspect both north and southbound traffic, and would serve to intercept much of the boat traffic coming from the southwest. Unfortunately, the funding for this station has yet to be secured, and the FBC is trying to find a way to close this funding gap.

“Since the Highway 93 corridor serves at the primary southern entrance to the Flathead region, obtaining funding for this station is now our highest priority,” said Tom Smith, FBC chair.

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