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Watercraft confusion results in game warnings

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PABLO – More than 40 written and verbal warnings were issued to people who blew past the watercraft checkpoint in Pablo last summer, and law enforcement officials say ignorance about what constitutes a “watercraft” likely played a part.

“A lot of it, quite frankly, is people with kayaks or rafts,” Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks Captain Lee Anderson said in a meeting last week with the Flathead Reservation Fish and Wildlife Board. People wonder if their small crafts have to pass inspection for aquatic invasive species like larger motorboats do. 

Watercraft encompasses all kinds of vessels including kayaks and rafts, Anderson clarified. Anything going on the water needs to be inspected, or its operator risks being cited.

Officers were lenient, gave warnings last summer, and ticketed only one person who knew they were supposed to stop, but did not. Anderson said it might be best to include better and more succinct signage at the checkpoint in the future.

The Pablo checkpoint is one of several statewide that inspected more than 26,000 vessels last summer. It costs the state $52,000 per year to operate a checkpoint, but Governor Steve Bullock stressed in an August 2013 visit to the checkpoint that the amount is far less than the estimated $80 million cost an infestation of zebra mussels would bring.

The checkpoints are meant to prevent zebra mussels, qagga mussels and other aquatic invasives from entering the watershed. So far zebra and quagga mussels have not been found in Flathead Lake. 

Overall, Anderson said the checkpoints are working. Tribal, federal, and state officials have all taken turns manning the station.

“We started ramping it up and the number of people blowing by has decreased,” Anderson said. “… It’s been a vast improvement.”

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