In Montana, boating rules in place to fend off invasive mussels

HELENA, Mont. — New boating rules have been put in place for two Montana reservoirs to fend off invasive mussels, as state agencies seek $11 million over the next two years to ramp up boat inspection and decontamination efforts.

The moves by wildlife officials and state lawmakers follow the discovery last year of invasive mussel larvae at Tiber Reservoir and suspected mussel larvae at Canyon Ferry Reservoir.

The aquatic invaders can spread quickly, clogging water pipes, displacing native species and causing other economic and environmental problems. That has already happened elsewhere, including in the Great Lakes.

To prevent such problems in Montana, a Republican lawmaker from Libby, Sen. Chas Vincent, proposed legislation that would impose fees on boaters, irrigators and hydropower to finance efforts to control mussels and other invasive aquatic species.

“We’re casting a broad net, and that was done purposefully,” Vincent said told the Helena Independent Record. “We’ve expanded that net because everyone needs to be at the table to deal with this urgent situation.”

Initial steps to combat mussels already are underway.

Boaters at Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs will be required to launch and exit at designated boat ramps unless the boats are certified to remain only in one of those waters. Fisheries chief Eileen Ryce says the designated ramps at the reservoirs near Chester and Helena will have inspection and decontamination stations.

The “local boater” program will allow watercraft owners to complete educational training on aquatic invasive species and sign an agreement pledging only to use the boat at either Tiber or Canyon Ferry reservoir.

Local boaters would not be required to decontaminate their boat each time they leave.

Meanwhile the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are requiring all watercraft, trailers and personal watercraft to be inspected and cleaned before launching into any water on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Tribal water bodies — with the exception of Flathead Lake and the lower Flathead River — will be restricted to hand-propelled, non-trailed watercraft including kayaks, canoes, rafts and paddleboards.

Felt-soled waders are prohibited from use in reservation water bodies.

Boating restrictions also have been imposed in Glacier National Park.

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