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Inspection stations keep Flathead waters mussel-free

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PABLO — Two mussel-fouled boats detected April 1 at the watercraft inspection station in Pablo reinforced the need for this year’s early opening.

The aquatic invaders were found on the third day of operations in the parking lot of Salish Kootenai College’s Joe McDonald Health and Fitness Center.

The 20-foot pontoon boat and 15-foot aluminum fishing boat were pulled out of Lake Havasu March 28 after being in the water for two to three months. Although they had been decontaminated in Arizona, the boats were still fouled with mussels. In many cases a second decontamination is necessary to ensure that mussel-fouled boats are safe to launch in Montana waters, according to Erik Hanson, AIS Consultant for the Flathead AIS Work Group. The group includes the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Flathead Lakers, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, Lake County Weed District, Flathead Basin Commission plus many other organizations. “Decontamination is not always 100 percent. It is critical for boats to be held after decontamination to ensure that they are actually mussel-free,” Hanson said. 

Flathead Basin Commission Inspectors Ky Zimmerman and Joshua Cruz located the mussels at the Pablo station, and noted that both boat owners were extremely cooperative and did not realize that the decontamination received in Arizona was inadequate. A hitch seal was placed on both boats to ensure that they would not be launched in Montana waters prior to decontamination, which was done April 4 and 5 at the Fish, Wildlife and Parks FWP Region I office in Kalispell. 

On Friday, Cruz was again peering in holes, running his hand along the hulls, examining boat motors and checking for aquatic invaders that could cling to weeds on boat trailers. 

Traffic had picked up since the prior week when the mussels were discovered. By 5 p.m. Friday, the station checked 23 motorized boats and three non-motorized. 

Tribal game warden Brandon Couture even brought back a boat that had passed by the inspection station.

“They called me on my cell phone and I ran them down,” Couture said.

The Flathead Basin Commission operates the Highway 93 Station in partnership with and funding from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Burlington Northern Santa Fe. 

Fish, Wildlife and Parks will take over inspections mid-May at the Ravalli location. 

The checkpoints help prevent zebra mussels, quagga mussels and other aquatic invaders from entering the waters of Flathead Lake and surrounding tributaries. The mussels cause irreparable damage to watershed and water systems, and once introduced, are nearly impossible to control.

All watercraft, including rafts and kayaks, must stop at the inspection station. Everything going on the water needs to be inspected, or its operator risks being cited. 

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