Aug 17, 2012 11:35 PM by Breanna Roy - MTN News
CLEARWATER JUNCTION - Since zebra mussels have infected water in Colorado, Arizona, Nevada and California in the past five years, Montana is now on the lookout for aquatic invasive species.
So far, Montana is in a safe zone, with no zebra mussels found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming. The only cases in the Dakotas are on the far eastern edges of the state.
But experts worry that buffer is slowly shrinking and it could be just a matter of time before it reaches us.
At the state's busiest checkpoint, the Clearwater Junction on U.S. Highway 200, boaters are asked what body of water they've most recently been in. The quick chat is a simple safeguard from a complicated problem: zebra mussels and other invasive species that prey on pristine lakes and streams. It's bad news for boaters, and even worse for native aquatic life, said Joann Wallenburn, a coordinator with the Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Program.
"The plants can grow up to 15-20 feet deep and they'll cover the entire distance from the shoreline out to that deep, all the way around. They grow so thickly you can't get a boat through them," she said.
The Forest Service's Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration program and Montana's Fish Wildlife and Parks fund the Clearwater Junction check station, hoping to prevent it from happening here.
"This region's economy is based on the beautiful lakes we have and the trout fishing and the water skiing and these organisms, when they get into waters where they're not native, just destroy the ecology of the water. They change it," Wallenburn said.
What takes less than five minutes for boat owners could make the difference in the long-term health of our lakes and streams.
"These boat inspections are the key and then monitoring for early detection. If we do get them, finding them as early as we can is our only chance at maybe mitigating their effect."