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Invasive mussels found on boat at Ravalli check station

Second infested boat seized at Ravalli check station this year

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RAVALLI – During a routine inspection, employees at the Ravalli Aquatic Invasive Species watercraft inspection station found adult zebra mussels stuck to a boat.

The inspection station looks at every boat that passes through Ravalli. This is the second time they have identified the destructive, invasive mussels this season. 

A single mussel entering the Columbia River Basin — the basin that Flathead Lake sits in — would be disastrous, said Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe’s Fish and Wildlife division manager Tom McDonald. The watershed is the only uncontaminated system in the country.

“It’s an unacceptable risk to knowingly allow an invasive species that can cause so much damage,” he said. 

The mussels, along with a host other aquatic invasive species, could wreak havoc on the fish, plants and people who rely on the water in the area. Quagga and zebra mussels, like the ones found on the boat, are especially destructive. 

In watersheds that have become infested, the invasive species have destroyed fisheries, damaged hydropower facilities and clogged municipal water. The presence of the fast-multiplying organisms means the entire ecology of the infected water body is altered.

CSKT and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks operate the Ravalli inspection station in collaboration. Every boat that passes by must stop to be inspected for aquatic invasive species. It’s important to inspect boats thoroughly because once mussels or other invasive species are present, there’s no way to get rid of them. 

McDonald said the infested boat was a police boat being transported from Lake Michigan to Seattle. The boat had been checked at other stations in the state, but the mussels were not detected until the boat stopped at the Ravalli station. 

Staff at the Ravalli station thoroughly cleaned the boat before allowing it to continue on its way. According to a press release from CSKT, this is the 15th mussel-infested boat to be detected in Montana this summer. 

According to laws in the state of Montana, it is illegal to transport a boat infested with aquatic invasive species. While the boat was not intended to enter water in the state of Montana, McDonald said extreme caution is the only way to prevent the introduction of harmful invasive species to the area. 

McDonald said the inspection station does require significant resources from CSKT and the state of Montana but it’s worth it. “A redundant system that provides protection is worth the investment to protect Flathead Lake and the entire Columbia River Basin all the way to the Pacific Ocean.”

McDonald said the Ravalli station is part of CSKT’s commitment to protecting all the ecosystems and people who rely on water connected to Flathead Lake. “We take it very seriously,” McDonald said. McDonald sees the fact that mussels were found at the Ravalli station as proof that the station is doing its job. 

McDonald is disappointed that aquatic invasive species are still being transported around the state. The New Zealand mud snail was found in water in the Bitterroot this year; however, this summer no waters have tested positive for invasive mussels. “That’s good new for me; that’s the best news,” McDonald said. 

McDonald said the biggest challenge at the check station is making sure every boat stops for inspection. He said if boats do miss the turn off, law enforcement does a good job of tracking down boats before they get to waterways.

Drivers who do not stop to have their boats inspected run the risk of getting a ticket or having their boat quarantined. 

McDonald said boat owners should be sure to have their boat inspected every time they transport it, even if inspection stations are closed. CSKT will always provide inspections at their offices, and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks offices will also do inspections. All boat owners should clean, drain and dry their boats when transporting them from one body of water to another. “We just have to make sure we have a tidy ship,” McDonald said. 

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