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Idaho checks first quagga-mussel infested boat of season

BOATING — Mandatory watercraft inspection stations have barely opened for the season in Idaho, and they already have reported finding the year's first boat fouled with quagga mussels, a potentially devastating invasive species.

The boat was checked at the Cotterell Port of Entry station on Interstate 84 near Burley. 

The program aims to inspect boats that are entering the region from mussel-infested states. The boat intercepted at the Cotterell inspection station recently spent time in Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.  Lake Powell, operated by the National Park Service, recently was identified as infested with quagga and zebra mussels. 

The National Park Service still does not require decontamination of watercraft leaving its facilities with mussel infestations, even though it means possible introduction of these invasive species to the clean waters of the Pacific Northwest. This also indicates that potentially infested boats are being transported outside of the traditional boating season, which is a concern for Pacific Northwest states.

Since Idaho initiated its watercraft inspection program in 2009, nearly 200,000 boats have been inspected. About 100 mussel-fouled boats have been intercepted and decontaminated before they launched into Pacific Northwest waters, the Idaho Department of Agriculture reports.

“Idaho’s watercraft inspection program underscores the importance of preventing these mussels from becoming established in Idaho’s waters,” Agriculture Director Celia Gould said. “All of Idaho’s waterbodies have tested negative for these species, but they have been found in waters of other western states, and are causing severe economic and environmental harm in other regions of the country. We continue to work with our regional partners to prevent these fouled boats from launching in Pacific Northwest waters.

"Catching mussel-fouled boats so early in the season is a real wake up call. The more the public is educated about these invaders, the more enthusiastic and vigilant they are in joining efforts to keep them out of the Pacific Northwest.”

Idaho law requires all boaters must stop at the stations, such as the one on Interstate 90 near Fourth of July Pass.

Watercraft inspectors are looking for high-risk boats that have been in quagga- and zebra-mussel impacted waters such as Lake Powell, Lake Mead, Lake Havasu and Lake Pleasant.

If you have launched in a mussel-infested waterbody in the last 30 days, you must have an inspection before you launch in Idaho. For a complete list of infested waters, a five-year summary of inspection efforts, and a list of Idaho inspection stations, see: www.invasivespecies.idaho.gov

  • To schedule a free inspection, call (877) 336-8676 .

Read on for recommendations for boaters:

Invasive mussels knocking on Idaho’s door, official says

INVASIVE SPECIES — Having the invasive quagga mussels booming in Utah's Lake Powell is like having a deadly contagious disease at a major national airport with folks coming and going in all directions — including Idaho, a federal biologist says.

He's trying to get the word out before boaters flood out of Idaho to Utah for spring break.

Here's the story from Rob Thornberry of the Idaho Falls Post Register:

With Utah finding more quagga mussels in Lake Powell, the likelihood they will find their way to Idaho is increasing, said Lee Mabey, a forest fisheries biologist with the Caribou-Targhee National Forest.

Having the mussels in Lake Powell is like having a deadly contagious disease at a major national airport with folks coming and going in all directions, including Idaho, Mabey said. The rate of spread of the mussels could be very rapid now that Lake Powell is infected.

Mabey is trying to raise awareness of the problem before people travel south for spring break.

Data from the Idaho Department of Agriculture’s five years of boat inspections indicates Lake Powell is the most frequently visited mussel-fouled water body by Idaho boaters. Many of these vessels have been out of the water less than 30 days at the time they are inspected, posing a significant risk of transporting larval or adult mussels to the Gem State.

In 2013, Idaho inspected 568 boats that had recently come from Mead, Powell, Mohave, Havasu or Pleasant lakes. All those waters have mussels.

Idaho does not, and officials are keen on keeping it that way.

If quagga or zebra mussels take hold in Idaho, the state’s lake fisheries will be forever changed and the irrigation and hydropower industry could face millions of dollars in added expenses. Undoubtedly these expenses will be passed on to the consumer, Mabey said.

Quagga mussels are prolific breeders and attach themselves to hard and soft surfaces. Once in a lake, they filter plankton from the water, robbing fish of food.

“If we get these mussels in our lakes, it is going to turn the ecology upside down,” Mabey said. “Our fish populations would crash. It is simple biology — a lake only supports so much biomass. You can have plankton and fish or you can have plankton and mussels.”

Mabey encourages all anglers and boaters to take the threat seriously and learn about proper precautions to keep the marauders out of Idaho.

  • Click here for more information on steps boaters can take to prevent spread of invasive mussels. 

“We need everybody to take part in prevention,” he said. “We can’t rely on just inspection stations. We need to have a change in mentality of all users. Just like anglers have adopted catch-and-release regulation, we need boaters and all water users to adopt clean, drain and dry after each excursion.”

Jordan Nielson, a Madison High School graduate, is the aquatic invasive species coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. He said government agencies are doing well to slow the spread of mussels, but those efforts will be wasted if boaters don’t change their habits.

“We need a paradigm shift,” he said. “The state agency can only do so much. People have to realize they have a responsibility when they go boating to make sure they aren’t moving things around. It is essential.”

Preventing invasive mussels worth cost, study says

INVASIVE SPECIES — An Independent Economic Advisory Board update released last week indicates that the money spent – an estimated $5 million per year from a variety of sources — in attempts to ward off an invasion of non-native zebra and quagga mussels into the Columbia River basin is money well spent.

However, the report acknowledges there's still a probability the damaging species will eventually get into the Columbia and Snake River systems and raise havoc for irrigators, municipalities and hydropower managers, not to mention boaters and anglers.

See the story from the Columbia Basin Bulletin.

Asian clams suck, and they’re in Lake Pend Oreille

INVASIVE SPECIES — A dive team to assess an outbreak of invasive asian clams in the Hope area of Lake Pend Oreille is being organized for Monday by the Idaho Department of Agriculture and Bonner County.

The clams were detected recently during the pre-runoff lake drawdown.

This is serious business. Somebody let down their guard and brought these clams into the lake, probably by not cleaning their boat after using it outside the area.

The clams multiply fast, suck in algae and excrete high-nutrient pellets that can foul water and turn those famous clear-water bays green.

Apparently we need to crank up the penalties to thousands of dollars and JAIL TIME to get the message out.

Idaho Department of Agriculture’s boat inspection stations, open since March 1, already have caught 11 boats entering Idaho carrying invasive mussels into Idaho.

The department has set up 15 inspection stations across the state as a line of defense against the invasion of zebra or quagga mussels.

If you think it's an inconvenience, you're not educated on the subject.

Northwest states eye Lake Mead as source of invasive woes

 INVASIVE SPECIES — Washington, Idaho and Oregon are among the Northwest states and provinces involved in lobbying the federal government to assure that a $1 million appropriation line item in the Department of Interior’s 2012 budget is spent to help cut off the spread of invasive quagga mussels from a main source – the Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Other states and groups involved in the campaign include the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, Colorado River Fish and Wildlife Council and Pacific Northwest Economic Region, according to a Columbia Basin Bulletin report.

Last year several boats infested with invasive species from Lake Mead were intercepted by Northwest states at highway check stations.  The Northwest region’s water-related infrastructure such as hydro projects and irrigation systems is at risk, as well as recreation and aquatic environments.

No quagga mussels in Idaho, Washington yet; plenty of close calls…

Tens of thousands of boat inspections later, Idaho and Washington have come through another boating season without getting invasive quagga or zebra mussels established in either state's waters - but there were plenty of close calls. Idaho intercepted 24 mussel-contaminated boats entering the state, and Washington decontaminated 20. While most were coming from the heavily infested Great Lakes region, nearly half were Northwest-bound from federal waters in Arizona and Nevada - and that has officials in both states concerned.

"Mussel-fouled boats continue to leave infested waters without proper decontamination," Idaho Department of Agriculture Celia Gould said. "The federal government needs to do a better job of containing infestations in their waters and preventing the spread of these species to the Pacific Northwest states."

Allen Pleus, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the good news is this: "To our knowledge, there are no established or known detections of zebra or quagga mussels in any Columbia River Basin locations, including British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. So we're the last great water basin without these species in the United States." You can read my full story here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review.

Inspections intercepted two dozen mussel-infested boats

In the recently concluded boat-inspection season, Idaho reports that it inspected more than 47,000 watercraft and intercepted 24 that were carrying invasive quagga or zebra mussels into or through the state. Nearly half came from federal waters in Nevada and Arizona, the state Department of Agriculture reports. State Ag Director Celia Gould said, "The Lower Colorado River system is known to be heavily infested with quagga mussels, and we know that many Pacific Northwest boats spend extended periods of time there. … Boats that have been in those waters are considered extremely high-risk."

The tiny, fast-multiplying mussels haven't been found in Idaho waters yet, and the state wants to keep it that way. Gould called on federal officials to do more to stop the mussels from leaving already-infested federal waters like Lake Mead and Lake Havasu. "Mussel-fouled boats continue to leave infested waters without proper decontamination," she said. "The federal government needs to do a better job of containing infestations in their waters and preventing the spread of these species to the Pacific Northwest states. We need all hands on deck as we work to protect our waters."

People with watercraft returning from those infested areas can arrange for an inspection by calling the Department of Agriculture at (877) 336-8676; they are also advised to clean, drain and dry their boats, including washing the hull thoroughly with hot water and waiting five days between launches into different waters.

Boaters must stop at Idaho’s summer-season invasive species check stations

BOATING — North Idaho has five invasive species boat inspection sites open through Sept. 9 to check boats for zebra and Quagga mussels that could infest the state's waters. 

The state Agriculture Department's Invasive Species Program is operating the sites 7 a.m.-7 p.m. as follows:

  • Cedars, on westbound Interstate 90 at Fourth of July Pass.
  • Huetter Rest Stop, on westbound I-90 between Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene.
  • Garwood, moved this year to Highway 53 (Trent) near the state line.
  • Old Town on Highway 2 east of Newport.
  • Samuels on Highway 95 north of Sandpoint.

Boaters asked to lead effort on zebra mussels

BOATING — Idaho has set up 15 roadside invasive species boat inspection stations, including five in the Panhandle. The goal is to prevent the state-by-state spread of exotic zebra and quagga mussels.

People transporting a watercraft near boat inspection stations are required to stop.

When going to any different water, remember to Clean, Drain, and Dry your boat.

For more info on boat inspections nationwide, click above to check out the just-released video from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Biologists explains zebra mussel threat

INVASIVE SPECIES — Mike Wilkinson, the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department’s aquatic invasive species biologist, will give a free program focusing on the threat of zebra mussels invading the region’s waters on Tuesday, 7 p.m., at the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council office, 6116 N. Market St.

Boat carrying zebra mussels intercepted at Washington border

INVASIVE SPECIES — Washington officials found invasive zebra mussels on a boat coming into Washington Saturday at the stateline port of entry near the Idaho border.

Both Idaho and Washington are ramping up their surveillance for these invasives with horrible consequences to our waterways.

Read on for more about this particular case as well as about Idaho's mandatory boat check stations.

Mussel-infested boats stopped at Idaho checkpoint

WATERWAYS — Two boats infested with invasive mussels were intercepted at a North Idaho checkpoint, state officials said Monday.

Idaho Department of Agriculture said in a press release the boats were stopped at a station on Interstate 90 near Wallace on Thursday. The Coeur d’Alene Press reports one of the boats was headed to Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, while the other was destined for Gig Harbor in western Washington.

The mussels have many western states taking preventative steps because they can destroy food chains, threaten waterways and fisheries. So far, Idaho waters are free of the invasive species, but two years ago the state Legislature passed laws requiring that all boats be tested.

Post Falls Mayor Clay Larkin says last week’s incident underscores the threat that invasive mussels pose to Idaho.

Gould: It’s everybody’s problem

Idaho's program to keep invasive quagga and zebra mussels out of the state has seen “encouraging” results, state Agriculture Director Celia Gould told JFAC this morning.

Twenty inspection stations around the state operated for 19 weeks in the past year, and caught eight infested boats. That might not sound like a lot, Gould said, but, “It only takes one.”

And those boats were headed for key Idaho lakes including Pend Oreille, Priest Lake and Henry's Lake. Boats that came through the stations originated in 49 different states, Gould said.

Invasive species boat sticker fees, which were raised last year, were expected to cover the cost, but didn't. Program costs were less than expected, Gould said, at $1 million, “however the actual sticker fees came in lower,” at about $850,000. So there's a $150,000 deficiency warrant for the shortfall, which the state must pay. “This program impacts everyone within the state of Idaho,” Gould said. “It's not just an ag problem, it's not just a recreational problem. It's everybody's problem.” Betsy Russell, EOB

Agree or disagree with Gould's assertion that invasive mussels are "everybody's problem?"

Zebra mussel threat lingers

WATERWAYS — Inconclusive test results showing signs of invasive mussels in Flathead Lake still have downstream interests on edge.

“Part of me still stands strong and thinking positive that it’s going to be OK,” said Erin Mader of the Pend Oreille Basin Commission in Sandpoint.

Results from a second round of tests to verify whether invasive quagga and zebra mussels have taken root in Flathead Lake could be revealed next week, according to officials from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

“I’m optimistic because a similar thing resulted from initial tests on the Snake River last year and they later were deemed negative,” Mader said.

Signs of exotic mussels found at Flathead Lake

FISHING – Signs of exotic mussels have been found in a routine plankton sample taken in July from the northern end of Flathead Lake, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department officials announced this afternoon.

Verification testing is still under way.

Test results from independent labs in the Midwest suggest that tiny organisms within the sample have characteristics consistent with zebra and quagga mussels. Results from a lab in Oregon, however, suggest the sample shows no sign of mussel contamination.

Council: Mussel-fight cost could hit $100M

A new report from the Northwest Power and Conservation Council estimates that it could cost $100 million a year to fight invasive quagga and zebra mussels once they make it into the Columbia River Basin, which echoes alarms that have been sounded for the past three years by Idaho Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, about potential costs to Idaho if the mussels make it here. Click below for a full story on the council’s report from AP reporter Nick Geranios in Spokane.

Checkpoint finds first invasive mussels

The first invasive mussels have been found on a boat entering Idaho at a checkpoint on U.S. Highway 93 in Twin Falls County near the Nevada state line, the Times-News reports. The 20-foot pontoon boat, which was headed to Cascade from Lake Havasu, Nev., was impounded by authorities and decontaminated, a process that took an hour and a half and incurred no cost to the boat owner, a Donnelly resident. Last year, Idaho checkpoints conducted 18,450 boat inspections and found two confirmed cases of invasive quagga or zebra mussels, plus an additional unconfirmed report; last year’s mussels were found at North Idaho checkpoints; click here for the full story, including video, from Times-News reporter Pat Marcantonio.

Boat inspection stations opening

Idaho’s state Department of Agriculture plans to open its first boat-inspection stations of the season tomorrow, near Bruneau where highways 51 and 78 intersect, and near Marsing on Highway 95. An additional check station on U.S. 93 just north of the Nevada state line will open on Saturday; all will operate seven days a week. The idea is to check all watercraft and equipment - motorized or not - for invasive quagga or zebra mussels. The department said in an announcement, “It is important that boaters arrive in Idaho with a clean, drained and dry watercraft.”

The fast-reproducing invasive mussels can be carried from one waterway to another on boats, in live wells and buckets and elsewhere; the tiny mussels “feel like sandpaper to the touch” when carried on the hull of a boat, the department said. It advises washing watercraft thoroughly before bringing them into Idaho, preferably with hot water; draining all water; and letting watercraft dry for five days between launches. Additional check stations will open in North Idaho and elsewhere in the coming weeks; for more information, contact the department at (208) 332-8686.

Idaho boaters won’t need two separate stickers for their boats this year

When Idaho boaters register their boats for the next boating season, they’ll no longer have to purchase a separate invasive species sticker – it’ll all be combined into a single registration sticker. “It saves a tremendous amount of money,” said Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, adding, “That’s what the public wanted, too – they didn’t want another sticker on their boat.” Owners of boats registered out of state or non-motorized boats still will have to purchase the separate invasive species sticker, which raises money for the state’s efforts to keep invasive quagga and zebra mussels and other dangerous critters out of the state’s waterways. But for Idaho-registered boats, the invasive species program will be included within the regular boat registration process, and boaters will receive notice before the first of the year.

Anderson said this year sales of the invasive species stickers raised about $750,000, but the state had hoped to collect $1 million from registered boaters alone. Tying the process into boat registration should improve that, he said. “Next year, we will be much more successful on having the money up-front.” You can read more here in my column from Sunday’s paper.

Anderson: Success so far on quaggas

Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, says Idaho’s efforts to keep invasive quagga and zebra mussels from getting into the state’s waterways appear to be succeeding. “We were very successful this year,” he  told the Legislature’s interim committee on energy, environment and technology. “We seem to have avoided any contact with these critters in our waterways this year.” Seventeen sites were set up statewide to inspect boats coming into the state, and Idaho required boaters to buy a special sticker to fund the anti-mussel efforts. “It’s absolutely paramount that we stay diligent - we’re going to have to do more,” Anderson said. “We have been successful - this is like trying to prevent a terrorist act. Professionals out there feel that we have really dodged a bullet.”

One boat that was chased through three states actually was launched in the Spokane River, Anderson said, but extensive monitoring followed and no contamination was found. “I was concerned because I just live downriver, just downstream from that,” said Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene. He said the launch took place at Blackwell Island. Anderson and officials said the boat turned out to have been out of the water long enough before its Idaho launch for any invasive critters on it to have died.

That’s the sticker…

Swung by the Idaho parks & rec office and purchased my invasive species sticker, which I then plastered onto my sailboard. Now we’ll see if it sticks. They were plenty busy, but it was a breeze picking up the $5 sticker (for non-motorized craft; Idaho-registered boats are $10, those registered elsewhere are $20). There was no wait. Phones were ringing off the hook, and parks workers were advising folks that if they order their stickers on the Internet and keep their receipts, they can show those to the cops over the holiday weekend and they won’t get a ticket, even if they haven’t gotten their stickers yet. Here’s a link to the full info about Idaho’s new boat-sticker program to raise money to fight invasive species, including keeping fast-spreading quagga and zebra mussels out of the state.

Idaho-bound boats will have to pull over…

Starting in about a month, anyone pulling a boat into Idaho will have to pull over at a port of entry for inspection and possible decontamination, in an effort to keep invasive quagga and zebra mussels out of the state. Top state officials approved emergency measures today including nearly a dozen such inspection stations around the state, with one to be at Huetter on I-90 between Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. The $1.8 million in emergency measures also will include a statewide billboard campaign, education and outreach, signs on highways and boat ramps, and monitoring and enforcement. But most of the money will be spent on inspection and decontamination, to stop the fast-spreading, thumbnail-sized shellfish from turning Idaho’s lakes, reservoirs and beaches into shell-encrusted wastelands. That’s been the fate of numerous sites around the Great Lakes in Michigan, and the mussels in the past year have been spotted as far west as Utah and Nevada.

“We’re trying to get some of this put together as soon as we can, before we get too far into the boating season,” Lloyd Knight, administrator of the plant industries division at the state Department of Agriculture, told the state Board of Examiners today. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the Board of Examiners, said the emergency measures are warranted. “The estimate right now is about $92 million bucks if we do nothing and just allow this very aggressive species to come in,” he said. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.