“My hope is this conversation sparks a lot more,” said Sam Sheppard.
Sheppard, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ region three supervisor, was in Twin Bridges last week to host a meeting on aquatic invasive species, focusing on Zebra and Quagga mussels.
“Unfortunately, Montana is the problem,” Sheppard said to the crowd of 17 gathered in the Montana Room at the Twin Bridges High School.
Currently, FWP has detected invasive mussels in the Tiber Reservoir, just east of Shelby, and turned up a “suspect” in Canyon Ferry Reservoir near Townsend last October. This fall, aquatic invasive mussel larvae was detected in samples from the Tiber Reservoir, Canyon Ferry Reservoir, the Milk River downstream of Nelson Reservoir and the Missouri River upstream of Townsend, however, only Tiber Reservoir has detected positive samples. According to FWP, more extensive samplings will take place after spring runoff.
“We’re so reliant on our water in Southwest Montana both for tourism and recreation, but especially for our ag industry,” said Ruby Valley Watershed Coordinator Rebecca Ramsey. “Once any species is established, it is virtually impossible to eradicate them and we should focus on prevention as the key to our success.”
Aquatic invasive species have the potential to affect and devastate water resources related to infrastructure and rob other commercial and game fish of the nutrients they need to grow. These invasive species can wreak havoc on irrigation systems, drinking water and hydropower facilities, damage boats and motors and devastate Montana’s premiere fisheries.
No neighboring states have yet detected the invasive species in their water bodies, so Sheppard said the species probably came over from Eurasia but that we will never know how they were brought into the state.
“Boats are the primary vectors,” he said, adding external threats, such as out of state boats are on high alert.
Sheppard said FWP’s focus right now is the eastern and southwestern parts of the state – the hope is to eradicate the potential spreading of invasive species through education, inspections and new laws.
“It’s kind of an all hands on deck approach,” said Sheppard. “That’s how fearful we are about what might be coming.”
Affect on agriculture
Invasive mussels can remain in bodies of water for three to four weeks before finding a hard surface to attach to and can tolerate water temperatures any where from 32 degrees Fahrenheit to 96 degrees Fahrenheit.
If mussels are able to colonize in agricultural fields, they could potentially render head gates inoperable, block water intake pipes and damage pumps, according to FWP.
“They also filter essential nutrients from the water, changing plant and animal communities,” as stated in informational release from FWP.
However, the invasion of mussels and spread can be prevented:
- Before transporting anything that has been in the water, drain all the water from every compartment of the equipment
- Leave equipment to dry for at least 48 hours before entering another body of water or moving upstream in a river
- Never release plants, fish or animals into a body of water unless they came from that waterbody
According to the FWP handout, the greatest risk is to intake structures and screens, pumps, small diameter piping and valves, dead ends in pipelines, areas with low water flows and abundant organic matter and oxygen.
Affect on recreation
Because boats are the primary source of transfer, FWP has launched boating inspection and decontamination efforts as well as their Clean. Drain. Dry. initiative. Anyone hauling a watercraft of any sort, motorized or not, must pass an inspection if they’re leaving the state, entering the state or leaving a reservoir.
Currently, there are no check stations in Madison County.
“I think (FWP) is trying to focus on the borders and catching boats at the borders,” said Ramsey. “I’m unaware of any check stations in Madison County.”
Dan Kenworthy, a Sheridan resident and boater, asked what to expect from inspections.
“It’s going to take some patience,” said Sheppard, adding inspections of more complex boats will take more time to complete.
Boat inspections, according to FWP, should take less than 10 minutes and include a brief interview, inspection of the boat and, if necessary, decontamination with hot water, at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit. To speed up the inspection, boaters should drain and remove water, mud and vegetation, remove plugs and open and dry all compartments, drain ballasts and bilge and lower the motor to allow for coolant water to drain.
“Are waders and fishing gear at risk?” asked Neil Barnosky, Sheridan resident.
Sheppard said waders and gear are less of a threat but it does not hurt to rinse and dry your gear.
“It’s really as simple as clean, drain and dry,” he said.
Clean. Drain. Dry.
Clean. Drain. Dry is the initiative brought forth by FWP as an effort to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species. By following this initiative after every outing on the water, you can guarantee that you are helping to fight the spread of invasive mussels.
Aside from boat inspections, live bait and fish must be transported in clean domestic water where allowed and bait and fish from Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs need to be transported without water.
The aquatic invasive species prevention pass was approved as apart of Senate Bill 363 during the 2017 legislative session and is required for all anglers, effective now. The cost is $2 for residents and $15 for nonresidents. The pass will provide additional funding for the AIS program.
*For more information on aquatic invasive species, visit with your local conservation district, your regional FWP office or go to http://musselresponse.mt.gov.