Great Falls Tribune: Emergency Restrictions OK’d to Contain Invasive Mussels in Montana

The state of Montana announced emergency restrictions Thursday on the launch or removal of boats, docks and other structures for Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs until they freeze over.

The restrictions were approved Thursday afternoon by a newly formed Montana Mussel Response Team and the directors of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

“We’re not anticipating that this is going to impact a lot of recreationists,” said Greg Lemon, an FWP spokesman. “Obviously, the response team feels like it’s an important step.”

Restrictions are necessary to prevent the potential spread of invasive aquatic mussels from the two reservoirs to other uncontaminated water bodies in Montana and elsewhere, said Matt Wolcott, incident commander for the state’s new Montana Mussel Response Team.

The closure prohibits the launch or removal of any boat, dock, or other structure that could potentially transport mussels, and will remain in effect until ice-up on the reservoirs, he said.

Response team members also are discussing the possibility of a draw down of the reservoirs, but no decision has been made, Lemon said.

“If there were adult mussels on the exposed shore line it would kill them,” Lemon said. “That’s been part of the discussion on an ongoing basis.”

A decision to drawn down the reservoirs would involve multiple agencies, he said.

“There’s alot of consideration,” Lemon said.

Gov. Steve Bullock on Wednesday signed an executive order declaring a statewide natural resource emergency for all Montana waters due to the discovery of invasive mussels.

Bullock’s emergency declaration freed up $750,000 in emergency state funds.

The DNRC, FWP and Montana Invasive Species Advisory Council also formed a rapid response effort led by the Mussel Incident Response Team and a Joint Information Center.

The team met for the first time Monday.

“It’s been like 12 hour days for the last four days,” Lemon said.

The larvae of aquatic invasive mussels were confirmed last month in water samples from Tiber Reservoir.

Ongoing sampling and testing found “suspect” samples from Canyon Ferry Reservoir, the Milk River downstream of Nelson Reservoir and the Missouri River upstream from Townsend.

Additional samples from those water bodies are being expedited and analyzed to provide definitive result, Lemon said. Water samples from more than 200 water bodies in Montana are currently being analyzed.

As adults, rapidly reproducing quagga and zerbra mussels damage dam and agricultural infrastructure and also sterilize lakes because they eat the plankton upon which fish feed.

Previously, the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council and Glacier National Park announced the closure of waters to boats to prevent the spread of the mussels

The Response Team, which includes officials from DNRC and FWP, will reassess whether to extend the closure following ice breakup in spring, Wolcott said.

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., has requested that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expedite the distribution of funds for watercraft inspection stations to combat the spread of adult mussels.

The state already spent nearly $1 million on operating 16 inspection stations this year, Daines said.

The state has plans to expand the number and hours of inspections stations to further mitigate this threat. But the federal match is urgently needed by April 1, 2017, before next year’s water recreation season begins and Montana sees an increase in boat traffic and risk, Daines said.

Residents who need to remove a boat, dock or other structure during the closure period can contact the Mussel Response Team at 406-444-2440 to request assistance.