Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) has recently implemented measures to prevent the spread of invasive aquatic species in the state. The measures came after biologists found invasive mussel larvae in the Tiber Reservoir last year. Similar test results at Canyon Ferry Reservoir near Helena led to increased vigilance in preventing this and other such species from invading Montana’s waters. The FWP has worked with the Montana Invasive Species Advisory Council to devise methods to contain current outbreaks and prevent similar occurrences in the future. Here’s how to stay in compliance this summer and prevent pollution.

Spread of Invasive Species – What is the Source of the Problem?

It is easier to comply with FWP’s new rules when you understand the source of the problem and the purpose of the law. Last year’s discovery of the mussel larvae was the first positive test in the state for zebra and quagga mussels. The National Wildlife Federation shows that these invasive species have entered at least 29 states by “hitching rides” on boats that travel between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River Basins.

Just one zebra or quagga mussel can produce about 5 million eggs in its lifetime – a period of about five years. They feed on plankton, which can mean less food for native fish species. These mussels have also caused billions of dollars in damage by attaching to structures, boats, and water-intake pipes. It is important to stop the spread of these invasive mussels in Montana to prevent harm to fish populations and damage to beaches. Once these mussels establish themselves in a body of water, they can’t be eradicated without harming other aquatic life.

Provisions of the Invasive Species New Law

The FWP has responded to the presence of invasive mussel larvae in Montana by passing a new bill, signed by Gov. Steve Bullock on May 18. Senate Bill 363 makes it mandatory for anglers to buy an invasive aquatic species prevention pass – a $2 fee for residents and a $15 fee for non-residents. The income from these passes (an estimated $3.2 million) will go toward paying for Montana’s measures against invasive species. Hydroelectric facilities must also pay quarterly fees. The bill has many provisions for how the state will handle invasive species and pay for statewide emergency efforts. These include:

  • Departmental responsibilities. Departments must prepare lists of invasive species and work together to adopt plans to take action against threats.
  • Vessel owners must provide proof of compliance with invasive species management rules upon request. After use in a body of water in one of the management areas, owners must drain all vessels and equipment properly before transporting the vessel.
  • Invasive species funding. Investment income will go into an invasive species trust fund, as well as a grant account.

Montana now abides by a “Clean – Drain – Dry” protocol for boaters and anglers. People must clean boats and equipment after each use, drain all standing water, and dry every part that has come in contact with water before transporting the item. The mussel larvae cannot survive without water, so completely drying off a boat or piece of equipment is important. At the Canyon Ferry Reservoir, boaters will now find a mandatory decontamination station and extra compliance checks to prevent the spread of the invasive species larvae.

During the decontamination process, inspectors run hot water through the boat’s motor to flush out any invasive species larvae. Boaters will then use sponges to dry any standing water, and mark the vessel with a zip tie to show they’ve passed the inspection process. If you boat on Canyon Ferry regularly, register for the Local Boater Program to qualify for a shorter inspection. As summer gets into full swing, make sure you aren’t contributing to the spread of harmful mussels in Montana.