By Myers Reece, 6-18-12
||Caption: Erik Hanson, a biologist and consultant with the Flathead Basin aquatic invasive species work group, shows the difference between the native species of plant life, left, and the invasive species Eurasian Water Milfoil, center and right, he pulled from Beaver Lake. - File photo by Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon
At a Flathead Basin Commission meeting last week, state and federal officials discussed the challenges and successes of a statewide effort to protect Montana’s waters from aquatic invasive species.
The commission met on June 13 at the U.S. Forest Service’s office in Kalispell to talk about a range of water-related issues, though the meeting’s centerpiece was the discussion on aquatic invasive species (AIS).
The commission was established by the Montana Legislature in 1983 to monitor and protect the water quality of the Flathead River drainage system.
Aquatic invasive species have increasingly become a concern for the state over the last decade. These species include quagga and zebra mussels, plants such as Eurasian milfoil, mud snails, disease-causing pathogens and more. They often hitch rides on boats, trailers and other water-recreation equipment.
In 2009, the Legislature passed the Aquatic Invasive Species Act, which set aside $660,000 for the Department of Agriculture and FWP to combat invasive species. Inspection stations are set up across the state to ensure that boats aren’t carrying unwanted hitchhikers, and anglers and boaters have become familiar with the motto: “Inspect. Clean. Dry.”
Through FWP, Montana has a statewide aquatic invasive species coordinator, Eileen Ryce. She was at the June 13 commission meeting to give updates on boat inspection stations and answer questions from the commission.
Ryce discussed the challenges of balancing the need for inspection and enforcement with variables such as traffic safety. Ryce pointed to the Clearwater Junction inspection station, where some vehicles transporting boats miss out on inspection because FWP can’t “ask people to cross the flow of traffic.”
“It comes down to a safety issue,” she said.
Chip Weber, supervisor for Flathead National Forest, said minimizing the number of vehicles that escape inspection helps him make a stronger pitch within his agency for implementing invasive species programs. Demonstrating the effectiveness of anti-AIS programs, he said, is the “political case I’m laying out.”
“The challenge for me is to be able to elevate this in the agency and get long-term support for this,” Weber said. “I’m one of the voices trying to elevate this within the agency.”
Chas Cartwright, superintendent of Glacier National Park, wondered whether FWP could make an exception to its policy regarding cars crossing the flow of traffic. Glacier also has a boat-inspection program.
In addition to dialogue and coordination between government agencies, Ryce talked about the importance of “peer-to-peer, word-of-mouth” education among the public.
“That’s a huge part of our program,” she said.
With inspection stations up and running across the state for the summer boating season, Ryce said she is happy with what she has seen so far this year.
“We’re very pleased with our inspection staff this year,” she said. “We’ve spent a lot of time training them. We have a real high-quality crew out there.”
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