Idaho’s 14 roadside boat inspection stations are busy trying to keep the state’s waters from being infested by nasty invasive species.
Boaters are required to stop at the stations, two of which are in the Panhandle along Interstate 90 near Post Falls and near Fourth of July Pass, as well as one in Oldtown.
The stakes are high.
Should quagga or zebra mussels take hold in Idaho’s lakes and rivers, the state could face expenses in the neighborhood of $100 million a year to keep them from fouling everything from boat motors and facilities to irrigation and municipal water systems.
Quagga mussels, which range in size from microscopic to the size of a fingernail when full grown, are prolific breeders and attach themselves to hard and soft surfaces.
State officials say they can’t afford to let these exotic threats get a foothold in the state as they have in the Great Lakes region as well as in western states such as Nevada, Arizona and California.
Idaho is one of only five Western states where quagga mussels have not been introduced. State officials want to keep it that way.
“Idaho was a leader in the program, but now Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington to a point are becoming invested in keeping the mussels out of our waters,” said Matt Voile, Idaho’s coordinator for invasive species and noxious weeds programs.
Washington does not have an active boat inspection system in Eastern Washington except for boats that might be checked at weigh stations.
Montana and Wyoming are doing random checks at boat launches.
“We’ve chosen to focus on the arterials,” Voile said. “Idaho has more than 300 public launches and it would be cost prohibitive to check them all regularly.”
Idaho’s boat inspection program is funded with nearly $1 million a year from sales of the invasive species stickers required on boats used in state waters.
All registered boats launching in state waters must display a sticker, as well as any nonmotorized vessels, such as drift boats, kayaks and rafts. Exempt from the requirement are inflatable nonmotorized vessels less than 10 feet in length.
Oregon enacted a mandatory sticker program last year and is doing roadside checks and some random boat launch checks.
“Idaho has trained all Department of Transpiration staff as invasive species protectors, Voile said. “We have contact trees and ways to notify points of entry in our state and other states if a boat being moved by a transportation company needs to be checked or decontaminated.”
Fouled boats are decontaminated with 140-degree water before being released.
Idaho’s check stations are low-key, with a thorough check for first-time boats and quick subsequent checks for boats that go back and forth to local waters.
Boat owners who drive past a check station without stopping risk a citation from state patrol or sheriff’s deputies, Voile said.
The Cedars check station on the east side of Fourth of July Pass opened in February, the first of Idaho’s stations this year. It’s scheduled to be open well into September.
The first fouled boat of 2013 was detected and decontaminated at the station before many of the region’s waters were ice-free. But Voile says the trend in fouled boats is down. “We caught more than 50 encrusted boats last year and we expect the number to be lower this year,” he said. “Boaters are becoming more aware of the invasive species problem we’re trying to stop.”