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The new knapweed: aquatic invasive species

2012-11-26T00:45:00Z The new knapweed: aquatic invasive speciesBy Morgan Sparks Helena Independent Record
November 26, 2012 12:45 am  • 

Of the many challenges facing Montana’s lakes and streams, perhaps the most pressing but controllable is the threat posed by aquatic invasive species, or AIS. 

Aquatic invasives include non-native plants, mussels, pathogens and fish that threaten environmental, commercial and recreational resources. Montana is still free of many problematic species, but some that plague other states, if established here, would create a multimillion dollar burden on some of the state’s most important economic drivers, including the hydroelectric, agricultural and recreation industries.

Like many of the state’s existing invasive weeds, such as knapweed and leafy spurge, aquatic invaders are nearly impossible to eradicate once established. They can push out important native species and cost millions in tax dollars to control.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates AIS already cost the nation $120 billion a year. Species Montanans should worry about most include Eurasian water milfoil, didymo (rock snot), zebra and quagga mussels and viral hemorrhagic septicemia — a virulent disease affecting fish.

Montana can avoid new AIS calamities, but it requires vigilant recreationists, as well as anyone else who moves boats or equipment from water to water. Montanans and visitors to our state can prevent AIS spread by adopting standard practices including inspecting, cleaning and drying boats and fishing gear after leaving or entering a lake or stream. It also means stopping at mandatory boat checks along highways and at launch sites.

Montana’s departments of Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Agriculture; and Natural Resources and Conservation are coordinating statewide efforts to help protect Montana’s waters. This year FWP’s boat inspection program stopped two boats with zebra mussels. Fortunately, in both cases the mollusks were dead and could not contaminate waters. However, if they had been alive and not intercepted they could have triggered a major infestation in the economically important waters of Flathead and Whitefish lakes.

Conservationists are engaged too. Montana Trout Unlimited is promoting the establishment of a statewide invasive species council comprised of representatives from state agencies, legislators and the general public. The council would help streamline coordination among AIS efforts and more efficiently distribute funding for prevention and control.

The most effective means of combating AIS, however, will always result from the individual behavior of recreationists, irrigators, highway workers, firefighters and agency staff who work or play on rivers and streams and who should put in practice FWP’s inspect, clean and dry model.

The alternative to vigilance against AIS is the potential loss of important recreational fisheries, including those with valuable native species such as bull and cutthroat trout or western pearl shell mussels. A lackadaisical approach could also cost Montana hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity and mitigation costs. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that if zebra and quagga mussels found their way into the Columbia River, they could plug intakes and turbines at dams, costing energy producers $250 million to $300 million annually. The cost would be transferred to the public in higher utility bills. This scenario could easily occur in Montana’s rivers, such as the Missouri or the Clark Fork.

The risk from AIS is not overblown. The first invasive mussels that came to the U.S. were in the ballast of a single transatlantic ship. The resulting cost to the economies of the Great Lakes states has been staggering.

Montana can learn from other states plagued by AIS. We can learn from our own battles with knapweed and leafy spurge. We should take preventative measures today. Without vigilance, we risk losing many of the natural birthright that drives our economy and culture.

Morgan Sparks is a University of Montana student and former intern for Montana Trout Unlimited.

Copyright 2015 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(3) Comments

  1. steeline
    Report Abuse
    steeline - November 26, 2012 9:21 pm
    jlarsen ,I believe you missed my point. I compared baning boat use on infected waters to our control of illegals entering into the USA at our borders. Either one is impossible. Do you understand now?
  2. jlarsen
    Report Abuse
    jlarsen - November 26, 2012 2:58 pm
    I'm glad the peanut gallery in its infinite wisdom has the ability to simplify a complex problem that consumes five percent of the global economy, into just a few short sentences.

    Do you really want boating banned on all waters with invasive species? Then the entire Missouri river from the headwaters to the confluence with the Mississippi would have to be boat free, including all of the major reservoirs (Canyon Ferry, Hauser, Holter, Ft. Peck, etc.).

    For someone that is normally so against intervention by "big brother", you would be quick to unleash the most extreme tactics. Are you sure you aren't a closet fascist?

    Imagine the economic impact of banning out-of-state boats. Don't you think it would be better if out-of-state boaters would just stop for the inspections? How do you plan to keep out-of-state boats from entering Montana anyway? Post law enforcment on the border?

    You'd rather pay a law enforcement officer at every state entry point to turn away vehicles with out-of-state license plates and towing a water craft; then pay a college intern to inspect their boat and maybe spray it down with a power washer if need be?

    LOL. Your method would cost taxpayers more money, and damage the tourism industry, which is a good portion of Montana's economy. Don't you ever think before you speak?
  3. steeline
    Report Abuse
    steeline - November 26, 2012 8:58 am
    Ban out of state boats. Identify those waters with the invasive units and ban boating on them. This problem is a national problem and must be delt with with accordingly. Then on the other hand so is illegal imigration. Look at where that is.

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