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Commissioners approve additional funding for mussel prevention

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POLSON – Responding to the threat of an aquatic invasive species, the Lake County commissioners last week approved an additional $5,000 in funding for the Flathead Basin Commission’s efforts to stop a mussel infestation in Flathead Lake.

The added funding comes in addition to the $5,000 the commissioners already budgeted for the effort.

Commission Chair Bill Barron said the FBC will be able to use the funds as needed.

FBC executive director Caryn Miske spoke to the commissioners on Nov. 22 and said that it may be too late to prevent the mussels from moving downstream in the Missouri River watershed to Fort Peck. Larvae of the species have already been identified at three sites in the Tiber Reservoir (Lake Elwell) southeast of Shelby and are suspected at a site at Canyon Ferry Reservoir east of Helena.

Miske said the group has signed off on a letter to Gov. Steve Bullock asking him to close those two reservoirs now. The closures won’t help the Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs, but they could help the waters that aren’t infested, she said.

The FBC is asking the governor for funds to educate the public and so that various bodies of water can be sampled for mussel DNA.

Dogs that the FBC has used at inspection stations to sniff out mussels are currently being used on beaches and docks, but “we want to get them trained (for that) so we know what they’re alerting on,” she said. The dogs are trained to identify adult mussels but need to be specifically trained to detect mussel secretions, she said.

The FBC also wants legislation that will require mandatory inspections for all watercraft before they are launched into a water body, she said, calling that measure “a basic tool in the toolbox.”

She also suggests requiring boats coming from the aforementioned two reservoirs to be decontaminated immediately. These may be identified by use of a license plate, for example.

Miske said it costs about $75,000 to run an inspection station. She would like to have two more inspection stations (for a total of four) and have them open longer. A station between Garrison and East Missoula on Interstate 90 would be helpful, she said.

On the positive side, Miske said Montana will be getting between $500,000 and $1 million in 2017 from the federal Water Resources Development Act that it can use in relation to aquatic invasive species. A total of $3 million a year will be divided between Montana, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Wyoming for 10 years, she said.

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