Char Koosta News
It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not referring to Daylight Saving Time or Smoky Daylight Saving Time or what are all these out-of-states doing here time, but yeah, clam busting time. Once again, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will operate two aquatic invasive species (AIS) inspection stations – Ravalli and Thompson Falls – in partnership with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Both inspection stations are the last western and southern zebra and quagga shell defense bastions closest to Flathead Lake. The Ravalli, along with the Clearwater inspection stations, are the busiest stations closest to Flathead Lake. The Clearwater station is also operated in partnership with FWP.
Why are they and the other 30 or so FWP AIS inspection stations needed? Short answer is zebra and quagga clam. Additionally, the Flathead River Basin is part of the Columbia River Basin, the last river basin in the contiguous United States not infested with zebra and quagga mussels. And the damage of an infestation to an ecosystem and associated economy would be devastating.
According to the 2018 report, prepared by the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation in collaboration with the Montana Invasive Species Council, Flathead Lake Bio Station and the National Invasive Species Council, a quagga and zebra mussel invasion was estimated to affect Montana 234 million dollars a year in damage to the state economy. The $234 million thing would go to the leisure and agriculture sectors, as well as water-related infrastructure damage and government revenue.
Part of the slump in government revenue is related to property taxes, primarily lakefront property taxes on Whitefish, Swan and Flathead Lakes, which account for 78 percent of the total lakefront property value in the state. An infestation would result in a $500 million devaluation of lakeside properties and result in an estimated $4 million per year loss in property tax revenue for state and local governments.
Zebra and quagga clams are bivalve freshwater mollusks about the size of a nickel or thumbnail that typically have a dark-white (zebra-like) pattern on their shells. Zebra mussels originally come from the Black Sea and Caspian Sea drains between Europe and Asia. The mussels were first detected in America in the mid-1980s. Ships from Europe transferred the mussels in ballast water to the Hudson River in New York.
Tom Woolf, head of the FWP AIS office, says partnerships are very important in the fight against mussel infestations, as well as other invasive species such as weeds, alien fish and illegal baits.
“Working with partners helps us do our jobs better,” Woolf said at the Upper Columbia Conservation Commission’s recent winter meeting. “We hope to expand our partnerships in the future.”
In 2021, inspection stations conducted 123,000 inspections and intercepted 61 clam-infested boats, a record number for the state. FWP wardens who provided assistance at checkpoints to prevent drive-bys issued 137 summonses and 182 written warnings.
The Ravalli Inspection Station conducted 16,674 inspections, including 3,780 high-risk vessels recently launched in states with known zebra and/or quagga infestations. Ravalli Vessel Inspectors found a record four mussel-infested vessels, which joined the state record of 61 mussel-infested boats.
The Thompson Falls inspection station conducted 4,266 inspections, including 319 high-risk vessels. No mussel infested boats were found.
The FWP stated that the reason the inspection stations were opening “early March” is to screen snowbird boat traffic returning from mussel-positive areas such as Lake Mead and Havasu.
The Ravalli Inspection Station opened on March 12th and closes on October 22nd. It is currently open from 7am to 7pm. It will go into 24/7 operation from May 15th to September 18th, then again from 7am to 7pm until then, closing on October 22nd. The opening coincides somewhat with the start of the Spring Mack Days fishing event on Lower Flathead Lake.
The Anaconda Inspection Station opened on March 11th and will close on October 22nd. The Dillon station opened on March 12; completion date to be set.
The remaining FWP inspection stations are scheduled to open in April and May and close in September and October.
The Thompson Falls Inspection Station opens April 23rd and closes September 18th. It is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m
Boat owners should ensure their watercraft, trailers, and equipment are clean, drained, and dry prior to shipment and must be aware of Montana’s inspection rules:
- All watercraft entering Montana from out of state must be screened prior to launch.
- All watercraft traveling west across the Continental Divide into the Columbia River Basin must be screened before launching.
- Anyone transporting watercraft must stop at all open watercraft checkpoints they encounter.
- All boaters are reminded to always clean and dry their boats and equipment to prevent the spread of AIS.
Some common ways AIS can be moved are:
- Attachment to watercraft, engine or trailer.
- Transport with ballast water, bilges and other water-carrying equipment.
- Releasing unwanted live bait.
- Attaches to fishing gear, nets and downriggers.
- Stick to the soles of waders.
- Attachment to waterfowl and hunting dog lures.
- Release unwanted aquarium fish, pets and plants.
- Transplantation of prohibited plants and fish in water gardens and ponds.