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Officials urge feds to contain invasive species

BOISE – Lawmakers from states and Canadian provinces throughout the Northwest are sending a sharply worded letter to the U.S. secretary of the interior and the Canadian minister of fisheries and oceans, seeking more aggressive measures to contain quagga and zebra mussels once they’ve invaded a waterway.

The letter says it’s “absolutely critical” that federal authorities contain and decontaminate boats as they leave Lake Mead in Nevada and other infested waters. It follows a similar letter sent by Idaho Gov. Butch Otter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar a month ago.

Otter’s office said he hadn’t received a reply.

Otter cited the case of the mussel-encrusted vessel Hello, the subject of a multistate search after it was reported to be traveling from Lake Mead toward Idaho. The boat was found and decontaminated in Spokane.

“Whenever you can control an invader closest to the contaminated area, you eliminate the spider-web effect and trying to guess where they go,” said Idaho state Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, who helped lead a Wednesday session examining the issue at the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region gathering in Boise. The group decided later that day to send the letter.

Paul Heimowitz, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, said federal officials considered some kind of quarantine a few weeks after the tiny, highly invasive shellfish were found in Lake Mead in 2007.

“The answer was they have, some days, thousands of boats exiting Lake Mead,” he said. “It was infeasible. It was not a very comforting answer.”

For the National Park Service to bring the required law-enforcement presence to the area to inspect all boats leaving the large lake, which spreads into part of Arizona, it would need a huge infusion of funding – or to shut down most of the national parks in the West to shift resources, Heimowitz told the group.

Anderson said it will cost far more to cope with the impact of the fast-reproducing mussels if they invade the waterways of more states in the West. In Idaho alone, the annual cost to maintain dams, irrigation equipment and other operations along waterways after a mussel invasion is estimated at more than $90 million.