The first watercraft inspection stations of 2019 are opening in arteries leading to Northwest Montana water bodies, and vessels launching in the Flathead River Basin are now required to undergo inspections to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.
The increased visibility of watercraft inspection stations is becoming a familiar indicator of spring in Montana following the November 2016 discovery of destructive mussel larvae in Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs east of the Continental Divide, marking the first time the invasive species have been detected in state waters and pulling a dire scenario into grim focus.
So far, the traces of contamination are restricted to the Missouri River Basin, but the likelihood of mussels hitchhiking on the hulls of boats or in bilge water or cloistered away in irrigation equipment has prompted state and tribal agencies to launch a multi-pronged plan that includes bolstering perimeter defense to intercept mussel-fouled boats. The threat of mussel infestation hits especially close to home for those working to protect the waters of Flathead Lake and its surrounding network of rivers and creeks, and it comes to rest at the doorstep of the Columbia River Basin — the only major watershed in the West still believed to be free of quagga and zebra mussels.
Watercraft inspection stations will open this month in Kalispell, Ravalli and Browning.
“Watercraft inspection stations are Montana’s first line of defense to prevent the movement of aquatic invasive species,” according to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) officials.
The FWP Region 1 office in Kalispell will offer boat inspections seven days a week starting this week. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes plan to open the Ravalli watercraft inspection station on Highway 200 on March 15. The Blackfeet Nation expects to open a station in Browning later this month.
The AIS station at FWP’s Region 1 office in Kalispell will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
Boat owners should ensure their watercraft and trailers are clean, drained and dry before transport and need to be aware of Montana’s inspection rules: All watercraft coming into Montana from out of state must be inspected prior to launching.
All watercraft traveling west across the Continental Divide into the Columbia River Basin must be inspected prior to launching.
All watercraft launching anywhere within the Flathead Basin that were last launched on waters outside of the Flathead Basin must be inspected.
Anyone transporting watercraft must stop at all open watercraft inspection stations they encounter.
Snowbirds returning to Montana with a watercraft must seek out an inspection. Watercraft that have been used in mussel-infested waters in other states are of major concern. Boat owners returning to Montana must have their vessel inspected at a Montana watercraft inspection station, even if the watercraft was checked in another state.
To accommodate these rules, inspection stations are set up across Montana during the boating season. Additional inspection stations will open in April and May as the weather warms and boat traffic increases.
Watercraft can also be inspected at any Fish, Wildlife and Parks area or regional office. For a full list and map along with other information, visit cleandraindrymt.com or call (406) 444-2440.