The first watercraft inspection stations of 2020 are opening in arteries leading to Northwest Montana water bodies, and vessels launching in the Flathead River Basin are required to undergo inspections to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species.
Starting with early-season operations in Kalispell and Ravalli, the inspections are part of the ongoing effort to protect Montana waters from harmful 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.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) is currently offering free boat inspections at its regional headquarters in Kalispell, 490 N. Meridian near the fairgrounds. The inspections are available 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Beginning March 16, FWP will offer inspections at its Region 1 office seven days a week: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
In partnership with FWP, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes is staffing the watercraft inspection station along U.S. Highway 93 in Ravalli, and this station is currently operating seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The hours of operation will expand this spring.
Boaters can also call ahead to schedule an inspection at a regional or area FWP office Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Additional inspection stations will open across Montana this spring. For more information, visit cleandraindrymt.com.
All boats launching within the Flathead Basin must receive an inspection prior to launching if they last launched outside of the Flathead Basin. For a map of the Flathead Basin, visit cleandraindrymt.com.
In northwest Montana, additional watercraft inspection rules apply for Whitefish Lake (www.cityofwhitefish.org/parks-and-recreation/city-beach.php) and Glacier National Park (nps.gov/glac), and boaters should consult specific regulations for these areas in advance.
All anglers and watercraft operators participating in the spring Flathead Lake Mack Days tournament, which begins March 20, will need proof of a 2020 boat inspection that will be turned in with first entries.
All watercraft traveling west over the Continental Divide into western Montana (the Columbia River Basin) are required to undergo an inspection as well.
All out-of-state boats must be inspected before launching on Montana waters. Montana will accept inspections conducted in Idaho and Wyoming. Proof of inspection receipt is required, and a seal when applicable.
Boats with a ballast or bladder, such as wakeboard or wake-surfing boats, arriving from out of state or traveling from east of the Continental Divide must obtain a decontamination before launching.
Non-resident watercraft launching in Montana are required to have a Vessel AIS Prevention Pass (AISPP). Purchase the Vessel AISPP at FWP regional offices or online at fwp.mt.gov.
Aquatic invasive species (AIS) are plants, animals, or pathogens that are not native to Montana and can cause harm to the environment and economy.
AIS are introduced accidentally or intentionally outside of their native range. AIS populations, such as zebra or quagga mussels, can reproduce quickly and spread rapidly because there are no natural predators or competitors to keep them in check. AIS can displace native species, clog waterways, impact irrigation and power systems, degrade ecosystems, threaten recreational fishing opportunities, and can cause wildlife and public health problems.