The take home message last week was that communication and coordination has improved…, but still needs to get better if the Pacific Northwest region is going to ward off what are continuing threats from invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels.
The mussels are a feared invader that is literally knocking at the Northwest’s door. No infestations have been found yet, but a total of 23 “fouled” boats – watercraft encrusted with invasive mussels -- have been identified so far this year at Idaho border check stations. The infected boats have either been cleaned or held until officials are sure the mussels are dead.
“30 days is a safe window. I don’t think anything can live for more than 30 days,” according to Amy Ferriter, the Idaho Department of Agriculture’s Invasive Species Program coordinator. She was one about 70 participants from five western states and five Canadian provinces participating in an invasive species conference held last week in Portland.
The conference was part of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region’s 21st annual summit, which focused on a variety of topics of common interest to the states and provinces. Overall attendance was estimated to be nearly 700.
PNWER is a public-private partnership chartered by the states of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, the western provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan and the Yukon and Northwest territories. The organization is “dedicated to encouraging global economic competitiveness and preserving our world-class natural environment.”
Invasive species – plants and animals alike -- are among the primary factors that have led to the decline of native fish and wildlife populations in the United States. The conference was intended to launch the development of regional strategies to address the threat of invasive species to natural resources, the economy and quality of life.
Once established the invasive quagga and zebra mussels can clog water intake and delivery pipes and dam intake gates. They adhere to boats, pilings, and most hard and some soft substrates.
The mussels negatively impact water delivery systems, fire protection, and irrigation systems and require costly removal maintenance.
No infestations have been found in the Pacific Northwest but quagga and/or zebra mussels are nearby. They were found in January 2007 in Lake Mead in the Southwest and since then quagga or zebra mussels have been found in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Utah.
Quagga and zebra mussels are native to the Black and Caspian sea drainages. They were first introduced to the Great Lakes region of the United States in the late 1980s via ballast water discharge from ocean-going vessels. The mussels have been blamed for severe environmental damage and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure damage.
The mollusks have spread throughout the central and northeastern United States, via a number of pathways. Adult mussels easily cling to hard surfaces such as boats and can be spread when boats are trailered from one water body the next.
Most recently, state and federal officials announced this week that that they had confirmed the presence of juvenile quagga mussels in Lahontan Reservoir in northern Nevada and quagga’s may also be in nearby Rye Patch Reservoir.
“It’s getting a little closer to us,” said Paul Heimowitz, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pacific Region
Conference participants stressed the need for vigilance. Idaho is in the third year of manning border check station specifically aimed at heading off invasions of mussels and other species. The Oregon Legislature passed a bill this year requiring that boats entering the state stop for inspections. Washington and Montana are likewise checking boats.
Oregon state Rep. Bob Jenson, who spoke at the conference, said that in the past only about 25 percent of the boats passing by turned off the road for what were voluntary checks.
“We changed the law so it’s a mandatory stop,” Jenson said.
“I think it (the required inspections) will bring in some data that will raise some eyebrows,” said Heimowitz.
The Idaho data is already raising eyebrows with the number of identified infected boats rising from three in the first year of the program to eight last year and now 22 so far in 2011. The most recent was a boat checked Wednesday that was headed from Lake Mead up to British Columbia. The boat was checked at the border station at Jackpot, Idaho.
“I do think it’s a function of opening early,” Ferriter said. The check stations, 15 in all, began opening in March as opposed to April or May. By this week, a total of 25,000 boats had been inspected for aquatic invasive species and noxious weeds so far this year, Ferriter said. The earlier opening date this season has provided the opportunity to inspect more boats that are coming to or through Idaho from infested waters at Lake Mead, Lake Havasu, Lake Pleasant and the Great Lakes.
Of the fouled boats found so far 14 have come from the Midwest and nine from Arizona or Nevada.
Idaho watercraft inspectors are looking for high-risk boats that have been in quagga mussel- and zebra mussel-impacted states. Commercial haulers bringing boats into, and/or across, Idaho are especially scrutinized. Boats purchased out-of-state and being transported to Idaho or elsewhere are also considered high risk.
Of the fouled boats check this year nine were bound for Washington, seven for British Columbia, one of Oregon, one to Montana and five to Idaho. Coordination and communication has improved but needs to get better.
“We have to unite as a region. Montana can’t do it along; Idaho can’t do it alone,” Ferriter said.
Zebra mussels and quagga mussels range in size from microscopic to the size of a fingernail, depending on the life stage. Water in boat engines, bilges, live wells and buckets can carry microscopic mussel larvae (veligers) to other water bodies.
Multiple state and federal agencies are urging boaters and watercraft users to clean, drain and dry boats and equipment before interstate transport. They should:
-- Inspect all exposed surfaces - small mussels feel like sandpaper to the touch
--Wash the hull thoroughly, preferably with hot water
-- Remove all plant and animal material
-- Drain all water and dry all areas
-- Drain and dry the lower outboard unit
-- Clean and dry all live wells
-- Empty and dry any buckets
-- Dispose of all bait in the trash
-- Wait five days and keep watercraft dry between launches into different fresh waters