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CSKT stepping up to fully fund Pablo inspection station

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PABLO — The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are putting a little more muscle into the fight against mussels.

CSKT is contributing $17,000 this year to operate an inspection station in Pablo, according to Mike Durglo, the tribes’ environmental director. Last year, the tribes gave $10,000 to the Flathead Basin Commission to help run the station from March 1 to April 15, but it didn’t quite cover the costs.

The station, which is located in a parking lot at Salish Kootenai College next to U.S. 93, opened Friday and will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day through April 15, when it will move to Ravalli. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will take over the Pablo station at that time.

“Our big concern is the snowbirds who can bring (aquatic invasive species) from the Southwest,” said Eric Hanson, a consultant who works for the FBC. “Idaho has already intercepted two mussel-fouled boats” this year, he said.

Hanson helped train 23 people last week in Missoula, seven who will work in Pablo and six who will man a station at Clearwater Junction east of Missoula.

The message that inspectors will be giving to owners of boats and other water vessels is “clean, drain and dry,” Hanson said.

Frenchtown-area resident Deb Tirmenstein has two black labradors who will help inspect vessels by sniffing out aquatic invasive species. The dogs, who are sisters, trained for three weeks in California last year and worked western Montana’s boating season last year, she said, noting they worked six hours a day, five days a week.

The importance of fighting mussels is not lost on these folks.

“We’re at the headwaters of the Columbia River Basin. We’re the last mussel-free watershed in the U.S.,” Durglo said. “We don’t get another chance (to keep mussels out). Once they’re there, they’re there.”

Various entities in the state are trying to implement a fight against AIS after mussel larvae were found at two eastern Montana reservoirs last year.

Mussels can accumulate to up to 100,000 per square meter and cost more than $500,000 a year in the Columbia River Basin, Durglo said.

Paula Webster, the tribes’ water quality program manager, said the hard mussel shells can build up to as high as three feet in water bodies.

CSKT is applying for grants to help pay for decontamination units, inspection dogs and outreach education, Durglo said.

Public information sessions will be held from 6-8 p.m. on the following dates: March 14 at the Red Lion Inn in Missoula, March 21 at Salish Kootenai College and March 28 at KwaTaqNuk Resort in Polson.

CSKT will also oversee a Mussel Walk on the shore of Flathead Lake again this year. On April 24, students from Ronan, Polson, Arlee, St. Ignatius and Two Eagle River high schools will participate, Durglo said. Fifteen students participated last year, but 40-50 will help this year.

“Our goal is to get someone to walk every mile” of the shore eventually, Hanson said. “I raised my kids at Blue Bay,” Durglo said. “I can’t imagine having to deal with wearing hardtoed shoes (to walk the shoreline) or not being able to swim,” he said. Webster said mussels can also cause algae blooms.

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