UC3 meets, discusses AIS prevention
POLSON — Working together to combat aquatic invasive species was the theme of last week’s Upper Columbia Conservation Commission meeting.
The meeting, which was held at KwaTaqNuk Dec. 11-12, resulted in a “very diverse, large number of organizations” that agreed to move forward in a collaborative manner to address AIS, said Lori Curtis, chair of the newly-created organization.
The “UC3,” as it is being called, is an advisory council created by HB 622 earlier this year. It was given $10,000 for the biennium and tasked with recommending a comprehensive monitoring plan for the Upper Columbia River Basin, which is reportedly the last basin in the nation not fouled by mussels.
“We’re going to agree to talk to one another and make the basis of all of our programs similar enough that the watercraft-using public has an easier time understanding the rules,” said Curtis, who is also the science and education director of the Whitefish Lake Institute.
The various entities at the meeting included: the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the Blackfeet Nation, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, Whitefish Lake Institute, Glacier National Park, Waterton Lakes Provincial Park and representatives from the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia.
Among the action items that were approved include building an application that one can use on a phone or tablet to capture data. All of the entities involved could use the app, which will be developed by Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Curtis said.
The group is also going to work on producing a document for boaters with information about what is required at various AIS check stations across the state.
“Fish, Wildlife and Parks has the authority to manage AIS in Montana, so we’re looking to them to develop protocols and plans,” she said.
“This is a big step to have UC3 as a leading organization,” she said. “Tom Woolf has been really instrumental in leading the charge on this.”
Woolf, the AIS bureau chief with Fish, Wildlife and Parks and a former aquatic program manager in Idaho, began working in the newly-created position in May.
Meanwhile, Lake County continues to have a place at the table working on new conservation and operations plans for the entire Columbia River Basin, according to Lake County’s civil deputy county attorney Wally Congdon. The county has hired a part-time attorney, Alexandra Lata, to represent its interests as those plans move forward, Congdon said, adding that she’s attended several meetings thus far. Those meetings are typically held in Portland, Oregon.
On Tuesday, Dec. 12, Flathead Basin Commission executive director Caryn Miske told the Lake County commissioners that she was placed on administrative leave by the DNRC as of the first week of December. The FBC’s funding has been nearly zeroed out by DNRC as a result of budget cuts.
Miske said she was speaking to the commissioners as a representative of the Flathead Basin Protection Fund, which is a fundraising arm of the non-profit Flathead Community Foundation.
She and the commissioners discussed the best way forward in regard to AIS prevention measures, including whether to begin citing those who pass inspection stations without stopping with misdemeanors under the county’s nuisance ordinance or passing a levy to fund an inspection station, for example.
“It just baffles me that they don’t want to write a ticket,” Commissioner Bill Barron said, referring to Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “They’re funded by the tickets they write.”
Miske said that fewer than 20 tickets were issued for AIS violations this year. The group discussed having Lake County Sheriff’s Office deputies and FWP game wardens (who are cross-deputized between LCSO, CSKT and FWP) write tickets.
In regard to a levy, the county would need to conduct a public hearing prior to passing a resolution asking the voters to approve such a levy, Barron said. It would cost about $150,000 or two mills to fund one inspection station, he said.