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Invasive mussels called the real Flathead Lake Monster

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POLSON – Clean, drain and dry are the measures citizens can take to ensure that zebra and quagga mussels and other aquatic invasive species never enter Flathead Lake. Tom Bansak, an aquatic ecologist who serves as assistant director of the Flathead Lake Biological Station, shared his prevention message during an educational and informational program held Thursday evening at the Polson library meeting room.

Bansak discussed topics such as the biology of the invasive zebra and quagga mussels, their ecological, economic and recreational impacts as well as how to prevent their arrival and how to protect the lake from their potential impacts if they do get into the lake.

“I like to think of these mussels as the real Flathead Lake Monster,” Bansak told the room of about 40 people who attended the free event that was sponsored and hosted by the Mission Mountain Audubon Society.

He described how the invaders become anchored to surfaces in and around water bodies. “They can attach to anything,” he said. “They spin a thread kind of like a spider web that allows them to glue themselves to rocks, docks, boats, each other and even mud.” 

The mussels also reproduce thousands of offspring that can quickly cover those surfaces with razor-sharp shells. “They can grow in really dense populations, as many as 10,000 per square foot,” he said. “Females can lay up to one million eggs in a five-year lifespan.”

Providing some very startling and eye-opening facts about the zebra and quagga mussels, Bansak told the group, “Each mussel can filter out the food from a quarter gallon of water each day. They are not really drinking the water; they are stripping the food out of it, restricting or eliminating access to that food by other species and organisms.” 

Ranging in size from the tip of a pen to the thickness of a Sharpie marker, once these species are introduced into a body of water, they are virtually impossible to eradicate. With more than 190 square-miles of clear blue water and 185 miles of pristine shoreline, Bansak said that a healthy Flathead Lake provides more than 8,000 jobs, generates about 24 percent of the total revenue for both Flathead and Lake counties and boosts shoreline property values by as much as $8 billion dollars.

Citing a study funded by the Montana Invasive Species Council and the National Invasive Species Council, Bansak said that a mussel infestation could cost the area as much as $234 million dollars annually in mitigation cost and lost revenue from tourism and recreational activities. Bansak also noted devaluations in property values could range as high as $500 million resulting in lost property tax revenues of $3.8 million annually.

Bansak explained some of the techniques and technologies agencies use in the detection of non-native aquatic invasive species and outlined various programs utilized in the prevention of an infestation within the state. 

Attendees were encouraged by Bansak to utilize and pass along the simple clean, drain and dry method as the most effective measure against possible invasion of non-native aquatic invasive species in our bodies of water.

Bansak also noted that watercraft inspection stations were starting to open up across the state for the 2019 boating season and that they were one of the key tools in the state’s fight against non-native aquatic invasive species. 

All boaters transporting motorized or non-motorized watercraft are required to stop at stations for an inspection before 

launching into any body of water within the state. 

As recently as Monday, April 15, inspectors fond mussels on a boat during an inspection at the Anaconda station.

According to a press release form the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the boat was being transported from the Great Lakes area to Bellingham, Washington, by a commercial hauler. The boat was last used on Lake Huron and had been on a dry dock since October. Mussels were found on the transom and trim tabs and were dried-up and dead. The inspectors decontaminated the boat before releasing it. 

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