FWP Begins Opening Watercraft Inspection Stations in Northwest Montana

Boaters entering the Flathead Basin and all other Montana water bodies are required to undergo inspection prior to launching

By Tristan Scott
An AIS area supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, demonstrates how a boat is cleaned if mussels are discovered on it. Beacon file photo

The first watercraft inspection stations of 2024 are opening in arteries leading to northwest Montana water bodies, including boats launching in the Flathead River Basin. All boat owners coming to Montana must have their vessel inspected for aquatic invasive species (AIS) at a state watercraft inspection station prior to launch.

Starting with early-season operations in Kalispell, Ravalli, Anaconda and Dillon, the inspections are part of the ongoing effort to protect Montana waters from harmful aquatic invasive species, especially zebra and quagga mussels. The operations come online in March to target snowbird boat traffic returning from mussel-positive areas such as Lakes Mead and Havasu.

“Watercraft inspection stations are Montana’s first line of defense to prevent the movement of AIS which can have devastating impacts on Montana waterways,” according to an FWP press release announcing the operations.

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.

So far, the traces of contamination are restricted to the Missouri River Basin, but the likelihood of mussels hitchhiking on the hulls of boats, as well as in bilge water or 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 tributaries, 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.

The stations near Dillon, Ravalli and Anaconda will open this weekend. FWP works closely with its partners at the Beaverhead Conservation District to run the Dillon station, and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) to operate the Ravalli station along U.S. Highway 93.

Inspections will also be available at the FWP Region 1 office in Kalispell in March to help accommodate requirements for CSKT’s Mack Days fishing derby. Inspections are available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

A sign posted near the Somers boat ramp warns boaters about the dangers of zebra mussels. Beacon file photo

Boat owners should ensure their watercraft, trailers and gear are clean, drained and dry before transporting 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.
  • Anyone transporting watercraft must stop at all open watercraft inspection stations they encounter.
  • And all boaters are reminded to always clean drain and dry their boat, live wells, anchors, boots and gear when leaving the water.

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.