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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

West puts teeth into invasives prevention plans

The crew at the Idaho boat inspection station on Interstate 90 east of Fourth of July Pass inspects a boat from Alberta for invasive species such as zebra mussels as it's owners bring it into the state. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)
By Dennis Anderson STAR TRIBUNE (Minneapolis)

Roads leading to Fernie, British Columbia, a skiing and fishing hot spot, are smooth and well-traveled. But if you’re trailering a boat, or have a paddleboard or kayak on your rooftop, plan on a few delays.

The reason? Canada’s western provinces, along with states in the northwest U.S., are serious about keeping aquatic invasive species (AIS) out of their waters.

Compared with their efforts, Minnesota’s attempts in recent decades to prevent infiltration by the same creepy critters appear lame.

My two sons, Trevor and Cole, my wife, Jan, and I traveled to Fernie this summer to fish the Elk River, a wide, beautiful 140-mile-long ribbon of blue water famous for cutthroat and bull trout.

My sons came from Missoula to meet us in Kalispell. Each of them was trailering a a fishing raft. En route between the two cities, each was stopped, along with other boat traffic, at an AIS checkpoint operated by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP).

Their rafts were inspected closely. Trevor and Cole were each asked where they had been with their craft and where they were heading.

In Kalispell, the boys picked us up, and we drove an hour north to the Canadian border, where we were told we couldn’t launch the rafts in B.C. waters until they and the trailers were inspected.

“It’s illegal in British Columbia to tow an infested boat into our province, or to launch a boat here from outside the province that hasn’t been inspected,” said Gail Wallin, executive director for the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia.

“Additionally, if you come from a high-risk area, such as Ontario or Manitoba or anywhere in the U.S., we can require you to have your boat professionally decontaminated or we can quarantine it for 30 days.”

Not every boat will be checked, because – as in Minnesota – too many entry points to the province exist.

“So we are trying to develop social norms that will have B.C. residents and businesses help protect our waters,” Wallin said. “If someone from the U.S. is hauling a boat up here, we want our residents to say, ‘Get your boat inspected. Make sure it’s clean, drained and dry before you put it in our waters.’ ”

The four of us fished for three days, then headed back to Montana. Again we were required to stop at a B.C. invasive species check station, where our rafts and trailers were inspected closely. Thirty minutes down the road, our boats and trailers were inspected again, this time at U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

This made four inspections in four days.

“We require anyone hauling a boat into Montana to have their boat inspected before launching,” said Tom Woolf, AIS bureau chief with FWP. “If we find anyone coming into the state with mussels,we’ll wash it with 140-degree water and dry it before it’s allowed to move further. We can hold a boat 30 days if necessary.”

So far, Tiber Reservoir is the only confirmed Montana location where zebra mussels have been found. Canyon Ferry Lake is also worrisome, Woolf said, though its infestation hasn’t been confirmed.

But a couple of dozen contaminated boats were discovered at the Montana check stations this season.

Glacier National Park is even tougher on incoming watercraft. No trailered boats are allowed to launch in the park, and every paddleboard, kayak or similar craft must be inspected by the National Park Service before being given launch permission.

At an inspection station in the park’s Apgar Village, I watched while paddleboards and kayaks carried on rooftops were removed to the ground, and any suspect debris or sand was vacuumed.

“We take this seriously,” a park service inspector told me. “We don’t want invasive mussels in our waters.”

Now consider Minnesota: On a given morning, I can launch my boat in Lake Minnetonka or Mille Lacs, each of which is blanketed with zebra mussels. And at noon, should I choose, I can trailer my boat to any other lake in the state. In all but perhaps a relative handful of cases, I could launch again without question or inspection.

Minnesota has more lakes and more boats than western states and provinces, making AIS prevention efforts more challenging. But with no strategically placed boat inspection and hot-water cleaning stations, Minnesota’s efforts are halfhearted nonetheless.

Boats from other states enter Minnesota every day, soon to be launched in its lakes without inspection.

That’s why Minnesota is where it is, with zebra mussels spreading, and other invasives – starry stonewort perhaps being the scariest – on their way.