Wyoming convenes emergency panel after zebra mussels found

Moss Ball With Zebra Mussel Sm Original
The discovery of zebra mussels in aquarium moss balls took many by surprise.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming’s governor has convened an emergency panel to scrutinize algae balls and other aquarium products amid concern that an invasive mussel species could have found an unexpected route into state waters.

Zebra mussels recently turned up in globs of algae called moss balls sold in pet stores in over two dozen states including Wyoming, which has banned further imports of the products.

The emergency response team will work on removing products containing the mussels from the market and try to keep the mussels from spreading, Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wednesday.

“This is an urgent and serious matter that potentially affects Wyoming’s water infrastructure, lakes and rivers,” Gordon said in a statement.

Zebra mussels are fingernail-sized natives of Eurasia that have overtaken and devastated ecosystems elsewhere in the U.S., including the Great Lakes. Wyoming officials for years have worried the mussels could damage the state’s renowned fishing spots and hurt tourism, one of the state’s bigger industries.

The mussels cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage a year by clogging intake systems for water treatment plants. They have yet to become established in Wyoming, to the best of biologists’ knowledge.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has put considerable work into keeping zebra and quagga mussels out of Wyoming waters. All watercraft entering the state between March 1 and Nov. 30 must be inspected for the creatures.

State officials urge boaters to remove all vegetation and drain all water from boats and trailers whenever they leave the water. Watercraft must carry annual aquatic invasive species decals costing anywhere from $5 to $30, money that helps pay for the inspection program.

Even so, the discovery of zebra mussels in aquarium moss balls took many by surprise.

A Petco store employee in Seattle first spotted a mussel in aquarium algae last week. As of Wednesday, the mussels had been found in aquarium products in 31 states, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

In Wyoming, the mussels have turned up in products at Petco and PetSmart stores in Cheyenne, Rock Springs, Casper, Gillette and Sheridan and several smaller pet store locations, Game and Fish Department spokeswoman Sara DiRienzo said Wednesday.

Almost all of the contaminated algae products came into the U.S. from the Ukraine region, passing through a distribution point in California, Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik said in an informational video posted on social media Wednesday.

Department officials urged people who have moss balls and other aquarium algae products to dispose of them whether they see mussels or not. As larvae, the mussels are microscopic, Wyoming fisheries chief Alan Osterland pointed out.

“If you’re looking in your tank and don’t see anything, it doesn’t mean it’s not there,” Osterland said in the video.

After the removal of any pets, the algae and tank water should be boiled in a heat-safe pot for at least five minutes and disposed of in the trash. The boiled water should be poured on a houseplant or outside but not near standing water or a storm drain, according to the Game and Fish Department.

The water should not be flushed in a toilet or poured down a sink, officials said.

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