EDITORIAL: Mussel fight must transcend politics

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Itís hard to imagine how potentially devastating a tiny invasive species like the quagga mussel can be on an ecosystem, but thatís no excuse for shutting our eyes to the danger.

Today and tomorrow, Daily Inter Lake reporter Patrick Reilly outlines the threat of quagga and zebra mussels in Western Montana, and shows that from the first discovery in October 2016 until today, the state has walked a zigzag line between politics and science that has the potential to impact our stateís ecosystem and economy for decades to come.

With the aid of a Freedom of Information request, the Inter Lake has pieced together the first full account of how biologists, bureaucrats and politicians quietly responded to the emergency in the first weeks after it was discovered. Was the delay in informing the public until after Election Day motivated by a wish by Gov. Bullockís office to keep it from becoming a political issue? Or was it, as explained to the Inter Lake, a decision made to avoid the issue becoming lost in the hubbub surrounding the general election.

No one can say for sure, nor can anyone know definitively whether revealing the discovery of mussels would have been a political plus or minus if it had come out before the election, but ultimately how we respond to the scientific crisis caused by the presence of quagga mussels in Montanaís waterways is more important than any one election.

Which brings us to the current state of fighting against a quagga invasion in Montana, and especially in the Flathead Basin.

As you will learn in Mondayís front-page story, there is a dedicated and conscientious team of scientists and amateurs who have been working for the past year to contain the mussels and prevent their spread into new waterways.

Sadly, this is a task that isnít glamorous and may not be fully understood by either the general public or the politicians who represent us. As Montana endures a state budget crisis, there has been a regrettable move to cut funding for one of the most important partners in the fight against aquatic invasive species.

As the Inter Lake first reported, the Flathead Basin Commission, which has been coordinating the response in Northwest Montana, is being targeted for a massive cutback that will essentially leave the commission unstaffed. This is a dangerous and short-sighted move, compounded by the fact that state attorneys are questioning the Basin Commissionís authority to sell boat stickers that would raise more than $1 million.

The continuance of the Flathead Basin Commission, which has long proved its usefulness, is of paramount importance, and ought to justify all local legislators getting behind the call for a special session of the Legislature as soon as possible. The stateís budget crisis cannot be an excuse to surrender in the war against invasive species.

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