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Fri., April 3, 2009

Our View: It’s a small price to pay to prevent mussel invasion

The cost of boating in Idaho is about to get more expensive, but it’s worth it.

This week the Legislature sent a receptive Gov. Butch Otter a bill that will impose a modest fee on practically every boat launched in the state to protect the state’s treasured waters from a couple of invasive mussels that are headed this way. Inflatables shorter than 10 feet would be exempt

Idaho isn’t alone. Mussels being notoriously poor at distinguishing state and national boundaries, Washington has to worry, too. Oregon, Montana and the Canadian provinces to the north also need to be on guard against zebra and quagga mussels – small, freshwater mollusks capable of inflicting millions of dollars in damage to a region once they establish residence.

In the Great Lakes, where the alien shellfish first showed up about 20 years ago, they have already reduced the predatory fish population by 90 percent, according to Idaho state Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake. Anderson, who pushed the legislation, doesn’t want that to happen here, but he’s alarmed because the infestation has already migrated to the Far West, including neighboring Utah.

His measure would impose annual fees as high as $10 for in-state craft and $20 for out-of-state. It would fund boat inspection and decontamination programs intended to prevent the unwanted mussels from hitchhiking their way into Idaho.

Once established, the prolific creatures wreak mayhem in a variety of ways that upset ecological balance and damage public infrastructure. They consume organisms on which native species depend. They take over spawning beds of salmon and other indigenous species. Their constant filtration of water makes it clearer, which sounds good, except that it allows deeper sunlight penetration, which alters the mix of life on lake bottoms. They colonize intake pipes, inflicting costly consequences on power plants and utility facilities. Navigation buoys have been reported to sink under the weight of mussel settlements.

They are bad neighbors.

Since one mussel can lay a million eggs in each of several spawning cycles a year, there’s no practical way to eradicate the intruders once the intrusion is under way.

No wonder Anderson isn’t satisfied to have his bill nearing the legislative finish line. His next target is to work through the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, which meets in July in Boise, on a coordinated approach among the member states and provinces.

Anderson will be remembered as the lawmaker who spearheaded Idaho’s efforts to curb the already troublesome invasion of Eurasian milfoil. Idahoans who value their boating recreation on the state’s splendid waters should understand the rationale and back the new fees.

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