Aquatic invader inspections must be improved

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A new water-quality advocacy group has given the state a rather dismal grade of C- for its efforts to protect lakes and streams from aquatic invasive species. In this day and age, thatís just not good enough.

After learning a boat launched in Minnesotaís Lake Minnetonka was infested with invasive mussels but slipped through inspectors at the Wibaux inspection station on the North Dakota-Montana border last July ó and another Minnesota boat headed to Flathead Lake received an inadequate inspection just a few days later ó we must insist state agencies do a better job of providing the inspection services that can keep these potentially devastating aquatic invaders out of Montana.

Watershed Protection Advocates, the group formed after the state slashed funding for the Flathead Basin Commission, reviewed inspection reports from the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to uncover weaknesses in the inspection process. The Wibaux stationís examples might reflect lapses in data entry or inspection training, or both, the group said.

A Fish, Wildlife and Parks spokesman told the Inter Lake last week the state agency is aware of many of the issues raised in the report and is already working to address them. The agency has promised to improve coordination among the inspection stations, as well as providing consistent oversight and training.

Montanans no doubt are grateful for the 16 out-of-state boats with mussels attached that were intercepted last year among the more than 109,000 watercraft inspected.

Watershed Protection Advocates recommended in its ďreport cardĒ that the inspection season and hours of operation at inspection stations be expanded. That seems like a no-brainer, since the ultimate goal is to inspect the greatest number of boats possible.

The groupís recommendation for the Legislature to authorize funding for the Environmental Quality Council to hire independent contractors to visit inspection stations has merit. It will take a certain amount of funding to keep invasive mussels out of our treasured water resources. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth the proverbial pound of cure.

To their credit, state lawmakers are considering several bipartisan proposals aimed at keeping aquatic invasive species out of Montana. It will take serious commitment from all stakeholders to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species. Summerís coming, and time is of the essence.

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