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Wyoming, Idaho Kindred Spirits in Fighting Mussels

by Jeff Gearino
Billings Gazette, May 29, 2010

(U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service) Quagga mussels like these can quickly clog pipes and other infrastructure. The non-native species hasn't arrived in the Northwest yet, but it's expected to complicate salmon recovery when it does. GREEN RIVER -- The Snake River is the lifeline of southern Idaho.

The river supports much of Idaho's multibillion-dollar agriculture industry and boasts numerous hydropower dam and irrigation facilities to prove it. Above Milner Dam, near Burley, for example, nearly the entire flow of the river is pumped or diverted for use.

So when a test last November for tiny zebra and quagga mussels in the Snake turned up positive for veligers -- which are the larva of the invasive mussels -- Idaho's new rapid-response team was put to the test.

Idaho officials were concerned that if the mussel were introduced into the Snake River, it could have disastrous effects on irrigation systems, water pipelines, hydroelectric power plants, and on fish ladder structures for salmon.

Luckily, the state' first real mussel scare proved false. Subsequent rounds of DNA testing determined the organism was not zebra or quagga mussels.

Idaho aquatic-invasive-species officials, like their Wyoming counterparts, believe an infestation of mussels could occur that fast. Ultimately, it may be impossible to keep the tiny aquatic invaders from eventually infesting Idaho, state officials said.

The state is in its second full year of an aggressive zebra and quagga mussel prevention program that thus far has proved successful, said invasive-species program administrator Lloyd Knight.

The program includes boat inspections on major highways and roadways coming into Idaho and on reservoirs and lakes that have a high potential for mussel outbreaks.

"We think we've been successful because we haven't found zebra or quagga mussels in Idaho yet, but we're seeing some significant threats from other states close by that have these infestations," Knight said in a phone interview.

"But we're still very, very concerned about this ... we're taking it very seriously and not resting on our laurels, because we're fighting a pretty big problem and the cost will be very high if we fail," he said. Of all Wyoming's surrounding states, Idaho's mussel prevention program is the most like Wyoming's new program.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials have been working for months to implement the first year of an aggressive campaign aimed at keeping zebra and quagga mussels out of the Cowboy State. Thus far, mussels are not known to be present in Wyoming but are present in waters in neighboring Utah, Colorado and Nebraska. Wyoming lawmakers allocated $1.5 million in February as part of a new law that gives the Game and Fish Department the authority to inspect boats for mussels and prevent the launching of any watercraft suspected of harboring the two species.

Boaters using Wyoming waters are also now required to purchase a sticker for all watercraft this boating season to help fund efforts to combat aquatic invasive species.

Game and Fish hired 30 seasonal employees to man watercraft inspection stations this summer at all of the state's major reservoirs and lakes. The agency purchased 19 decontamination units for the program.

Like Wyoming

Like Wyoming, Idaho didn't wait for invasive quagga and zebra mussels to arrive in the state's waters before launching a prevention program. Knight said Idaho's two-year program really ramped up in 2007 with the passing of a new invasive-species law.

"That put into place some of those things we can do regarding inspections and having an emergency detection rapid response list," Knight said. "It was the first framework for our program."

Because watercraft and trailers are the primary means the two mussel species are transported, Knight said Idaho's program also instituted a sticker fee program to help fund prevention efforts.

The fees are structured much like those in Wyoming: $10 for boats registered in Idaho, $20 for boats registered in other states, and $5 for nonmotorized boats.

Knight estimated the decal requirement is raising $1.5 million per year for the program.

"It's really helped get us started, but in the long term, only time will tell if it's going to be enough to sustain all the activities we have going," he said.

Like Wyoming's program, Idaho inspects boats for mussels and then decontaminates those boats that may harbor the species. Both programs target boats from out of state.

Unlike Wyoming, Idaho officials decided to inspect boats on major highways and roadways leading into Idaho, rather than concentrating on marina and dock inspections.

The state mans 21 inspection stations on such major arteries as Interstate 15, Interstate 84, U.S. Highway 95 and U.S. Highway 30.

Wyoming Game and Fish officials, on the other hand, looked at using border check stations but decided the cost was too prohibitive to implement.

"That was our first strategic decision ... trying to put those stations at locations where they could catch those boats coming in from out of state," Knight said.

"We've got a lot in south Idaho -- obviously, that's where the mussels are, south of us -- but also on the west and east ends of the state ... and we have a few stations that are either on or near priority waters," he said.

"Every boat that comes through, regardless of what state it's from, including Idaho, gets inspected," he said.

Last year, the department conducted more than 18,500 boat inspections at 21 inspection stations during the summer boating season. Three mussel-fouled boats were intercepted before launching in Idaho lakes during those inspections.

Related Pages:
If Invasive Mussels Get Into Columbia, Salmon are in Trouble, by Matthew Preusch, The Oregonian, 8/21/9
Mussels Will Eventually Bug Northwest Dams, Experts Say by Bill Rudolph, NW Fishletter, 8/18/9

Idaho Mussel Project

The Idaho Invasive Species Program was initiated in 2005 to improve the coordination of activities aimed at preventing the infestation of invasive species ranging from zebra and quagga mussels to weeds.

As part of the program, a full-time invasive-species coordinator was budgeted within the Idaho Department of Agriculture in 2007.

The Idaho invasive-species law was enacted by the Legislature in 2008. The Idaho Department of Agriculture was charged with implementing the law.

The law authorized the agency's director to promulgate program rules. It also gave the agency the authority to conduct boat and watercraft inspections as necessary. It also established the Idaho Invasive Species Fund.

The Idaho invasive-species prevention sticker law was passed by the Legislature in 2009. The law requires motorized and nonmotorized boats to have an invasive-species decal before launching and operating in Idaho.

The sticker program is administered by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.

Last year, program officials inspected boats from 44 states during the 2009 boating season in Idaho. More than 18,500 inspections were conducted at 21 inspection stations from July 4 through Sept. 4, 2009.

Three mussel-fouled boats were intercepted in Idaho in 2009. The boats were decontaminated before they were allowed to launch in Idaho waters.

Jeff Gearino
Wyoming, Idaho Kindred Spirits in Fighting Mussels
Billings Gazette, May 29, 2010

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