HELENA — Leaders from across Montana are in Helena this week, working on statewide priorities for managing invasive species.
The Montana Invasive Species Council brought together about 100 stakeholders from across the state Tuesday, for the state’s 2022 Invasive Species Summit. Their goal was to continue the message of protecting Montana’s land and water.
“I think we’re fortunate in Montana that we’re a headwaters state, and so it takes people to move invasive species to Montana,” said Bryce Christiaens, Missoula County Weed District manager and chair of the MISC. “That gives us an opportunity to interject information and best management practices – especially when so many people are trying to travel to Montana to enjoy the natural resources here.”
At the summit, federal and state agencies provided information, complete with displays of invasive animals, insects and plants. Local and tribal governments and private entities also participated.
“One of the unique things about working on invasive species is that they don’t recognize the jurisdictional boundaries that we recognize, so it’s really important that we have collaborative efforts that bring in all of those partners,” Christiaens said.
Martin Charlo, an MISC member and secretary of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council, says invasive species – particularly aquatic ones – are an issue that resonates for his community.
“Protecting the water’s always been important culturally,” he said. “We implemented a cultural waterway ordinance last year to protect the Flathead River on the reservation, and then obviously downriver.”
Charlo says the tribes have focused much of their efforts on mussels – including operating their own check stations – but they also want to be ready for other invasive species, like feral hogs.
“With invasive species, if you get ahead of it, it’s a lot easier to be proactive than reactive,” he said. “That’s the main thing, is just making sure that we’re learning as much as we can while we’re here.”
Organizers say the goal was for everyone at the summit to share their ideas. They held several work sessions, where attendees talked in pairs and small groups, then presented their top priorities to the full group.
On Tuesday morning, attendees made suggestions for the “Top Ten” invasive species Montana should be talking about.
“These are 10 species that tell a story about why we’re managing invasive species the way we are in Montana,” said Mindy Wilkinson, who moderated the discussion.
Zebra and quagga mussels remained the top species of concern for many speakers. Others identified things like feral hogs, invasive grasses and the emerald ash borer. When leaders finalize the Top Ten list, they plan to use it in their public messaging about invasive species.
By the end of the summit, organizers hope to have a work plan that can help direct management efforts over the coming years. Christiaens says they don’t want to become too focused on any one species.
“I think it’s important that we have a larger stewardship message,” he said. “There are things we can do that prevent the movement of invasive species regardless of what taxa group they’re from.”
This was the first time the summit was held in person since 2018. The event will continue through Wednesday afternoon.
You can find more information on the MISC website.