Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is seeking public comment on access options for Tiber Reservoir until April 9.
This water body is the only one in Montana that has tested positive for invasive mussel larvae, which can travel in boats’ standing water and, as adults, glue onto their hulls. If these organisms hitch a ride from Tiber across the Continental Divide, they could infest the Columbia River Basin.
All departing watercraft now require an inspection and decontamination at one of two stations. Participants in the reservoir’s Certified Boater program can avoid the full procedure if their next destination is Tiber and access all of its open boat ramps. A similar policy is in place for Canyon Ferry, where the mussels’ presence is suspected.
However, these measures aren’t foolproof. According to the Upper Columbia Conservation Commission, out of 1,076 boats that had originated at Tiber or Canyon Ferry, 99 had not been inspected or decontaminated when they passed through other stations.
In March, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks announced that it would restrict boaters’ access to Tiber to the two ramps, at the Tiber Marina and VFW Campground, where inspection stations were located.
This step drew opposition at a March 21 meeting in Chester, where boaters voiced concern that limiting access to two points would increase safety hazards and inhibit recreation.
Now, the agency is gathering input on how to protect the site. In a press release, aquatic invasive species bureau chief Tom Woolf said that “we need to ensure all boats are inspected before leaving the reservoir. It’s a balance of providing access and protecting Montana’s waters.”
To strike that balance, Fish, Wildlife and Parks is weighing access for emergency vehicles, allowing motorboats to launch at an additional point, and “considerations for non-motorized boats to launch.”
“We are specifically thinking about sites that may have different rules for nonmotorized watercraft,” said agency spokesperson Greg Lemon. “For instance, a site where you could legally launch a kayak, canoe or float tube, but not necessarily a motorized boat.”
In a letter to Fish Wildlife and Parks director Martha Williams, Lori Curtis, Chair of the Upper Columbia group, called for Tiber access to be restricted to sites with inspection stations, and for the Certified Boater program to only apply to residents east of the Continental Divide.
The agency is collecting public comments until Monday, April 9. According to Woolf, Fish, Wildlife and Parks will review those comments and prepare new guidelines, which will be reviewed by the director’s and possibly the governor’s offices. Woolf said he was unsure what public review processes would be involved.
Whatever measures are chosen, Lemon said that “we’re anticipating boaters will see this decision implemented with spring fishing and ice off ... The final decision will be made as soon as possible after April 9.”
Comments can be sent to email@example.com and must be received by April 9. Written comments must be postmarked by that date and mailed to: Fisheries Division, PO Box 200701, Helena MT, 59620-0701.
Reporter Patrick Reilly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 758-4407.