March 5, 2009 in Idaho

Keeping invasive mussels at bay goal of sticker fee

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE – Boaters could be forced to help pay for wash stations that some believe could keep invasive zebra and quagga mussels out of Idaho’s waterways.

“We have one opportunity, in my mind, to prevent the introduction,” state Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, told members of the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday. “Boats are the means of transmission, that’s how they get here.”

Anderson won the committee’s unanimous support for a plan that would require boaters to purchase stickers that would help fund the wash stations. The next step is a full public hearing.

“It’d be a $100 misdemeanor to not have that (sticker) on your vessel,” he told the panel. “However, the intent of this is not to fine. The intent of this is to educate.”

Several million dollars that Idaho had allocated for fighting aquatic invasive species got wiped out in this year’s budget cuts, so Anderson said funding is needed right away. Vessels registered in Idaho would pay $10 a year; those registered out of state but launching in Idaho would pay $20; and nonmotorized vessels, which don’t register, would pay $5 apiece. The only exclusion is for inflatables less than 10 feet long; commercial outfitters with large nonmotorized fleets would get a bulk discount.

Anderson showed the committee a paperweight with a cluster of the invasive zebra mussels encased in plastic, and another sealed exhibit showing a cutaway of a water pipe filled with the tiny, sticky shellfish. The mussels, which can clog pipes, destroy pumps, take over beaches and drive out all other species – they smell, too, Anderson said – have turned up in Utah just 180 miles away from Idaho.

The state of Maine already has initiated a boat sticker program, Anderson said, that could serve as a model for Idaho. “These things out-compete every other species in the water column – they would be gone,” Anderson said. “We’re at extreme risk in Idaho.”

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