Montana is entering its second boating season since invasive quagga mussels were discovered in Tiber Reservoir, just a few hours east of Flathead Lake.
On Saturday, several groups working to keep the lake mussel-free — the Flathead Lakers, the Flathead Lake Biological Station, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Montana State Parks — hosted a Community Mussel Walk to discuss aquatic invasive species detection and prevention.
Hilary Devlin, the Lakers’ education and outreach coordinator, struck a positive note as she discussed the problem with about a dozen guests at the Wayfarers unit of Flathead Lake State Park.
“I hear often, ‘Oh, getting mussels in Flathead Lake is inevitable,’” she said. “But I really don’t believe that.” She and the other speakers stressed that watchful citizens could spare the Flathead from an infestation.
But Shawn Devlin, an assistant research professor at the Flathead Lake Biological Station, warned that the region has much to lose if the mussels arrive.
“Flathead Lake is a very attractive place for people all around the country to come and recreate. It’s crystal clear waters, it’s beautiful shorelines, and it would be a different story if it were lined with zebra mussels.”
“They will take over the entire shoreline,” he added, damaging fisheries and infrastructure.
Montana has introduced a suite of measures to keep that from happening. One of these is a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks requirement that all boats entering the Flathead Basin be inspected.
Phil Matson, a research specialist at the Biological Station, led the group to a trailered boat to explain the state’s “Clean, Drain, Dry” protocols. Mud and plants clinging to a trailer or engine, or standing water inside a hull, were among the factors that could prolong the inspections – or lead to a lengthy decontamination.
“You might have to go 50 miles out of your way to go get your boat decontaminated,” he said. “Clean, drain and dry your boat, people. It’s really simple, and it’s going to save you a lot of headaches.”
Deb Tirmenstein, owner of Montana Black Dog Services, then turned Ismay, a 5-year-old black Labrador retriever, loose on the boat, demonstrating the skills that service dogs lend human inspectors at some stations.
The event finished with a walk along the breezy, pebbled shoreline.
One of the attendees, Capt. Dan Handlin, a board member for the Little Bitterroot Lake Association, planned to take the day’s lessons back home.
“I’m here to learn from them so I can take it back to Little Bitterroot Lake and help (build) education and awareness programs.”
“We have been saved from them because of our isolation, but we’re not safe anymore,” Handlin continued. He raised similar warnings as Devlin about the damage mussels could inflict on local waters. “I’m here to figure out how we as a community can stop that.”
For more information, visit http://cleandraindry.mt.gov/.
Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 758-4407.