AIS inspection stations open this week – Clean. Drain. Dry
By Toby Trigger

Posted: May 29, 2016


Keeping aquatic invasive species out of Montana waters will be the focus this summer of inspecting, outreach and education efforts by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Like other summers, FWP will operate 17 boat inspection stations around Montana this summer. Most of these inspection stations open on May 19 or shortly after in advance of Memorial Day weekend. All vehicles with watercraft must stop when they pass an inspection station.

The core component of FWP’s aquatic invasive species program is the mantra “Clean. Drain. Dry.” All boaters must clean their watercraft after use, drain all bilges and live wells and make sure all pools of water that may be in the watercraft are dry. This ensures that any invasive species would be eliminated.

Last year, nearly 37,000 watercrafts were inspected at Montana’s roadside stations. A total of 104 boats were found to have been fouled by AIS contaminants and hundreds more contained standing water or noninvasive vegetation. Five boats were discovered to be fouled by zebra or quagga mussels.

Montana law requires private motorists and outfitters and guides hauling watercraft—including motorboats, sailboats, kayaks, canoes, rowboats, rafts, jet skis and even small kick boats popular among some anglers—to always stop at AIS watercraft inspection stations for a brief interview and equipment check.

“Keeping aquatic invasive species out of Montana waters is a priority that crosses all interest groups,” said FWP AIS coordinator Thomas Boos. “It’s important for municipal water supplies, irrigation systems and for the health of our fisheries.”

Invasive mussels are considered the biggest threat to Montana’s water. These mussels – quagga and zebra – can multiply quickly and be transmitted easily by boats having visited infested water.

Quagga and zebra mussels have contaminated waters around the country, changing the ecological make up of water bodies, compromising irrigation systems and clogging up municipal water supplies. FWP considers water bodies in Mississippi River states and east to be contaminated. In the West only Idaho, Montana, Washington and Oregon are free of the invasive mussels.

And though it might seem to be a fairly simple thing to detect mussels and prevent their infestation into Montana’s clean waters, it’s not. During an early life stage, called veliger, mussels are microscopic and can be present in standing water.

“This is what makes our clean, drain, dry message so important,” Boos said. “It’s not just about making sure the mussels you can see are cleaned off your boat, it’s important that all water is drained and dried. If there’s standing water in your boat or live well they could survive and you wouldn’t even know it.”

AIS inspection stations are not just for motorized boats. Everyone with a watercraft must stop if they pass an inspection station. Watercraft required to stop include drift boats, rafts, paddle boards, kayaks, fishing float tubes and canoes.

At the inspection station people can expect to answer a brief list of questions while an official inspects your watercraft. The questions are a quick risk assessment to give officials a better idea of what they need to be looking for.

Additionally, everyone who goes through an inspection station will get a raffle ticket for a drawing at the end of the summer for a variety of outdoor recreation prizes. The drawing is another incentive to encourage boaters to make sure they follow the law and stop at the inspection stations.

Keeping Montana waters free of invasive species is a high priority for FWP as well as recreationists around the state. Last year the agency put a lot of effort into educating boaters on the inspection station requirements and the importance of stopping. This year that education effort continues but will be coupled with an enforcement component that will include issuing citations when warranted.

“We all understand how important it is to keep Montana’s rivers and lakes free from aquatic invasives,” said FWP chief enforcement officer Tom Flowers. “This year we’ll be stopping people who ignore inspection stations. It’s just too important that all vessels get checked throughout the year.”

Additionally, new rules will go into effect this month that require boaters to remove their drain plugs when trailering their boats, removing all vegetation from boats, trailers and gear and making sure all standing water is removed before launching a boat. All of these rules are aimed at helping promote the fundamentals of Montana’s aquatic invasive program: Clean. Drain. Dry.

“A few simple and important rules could make the difference in Montana,” Boos said. “If boaters and recreationists are vigilant about aquatic invasives, we can keep our water clean for years to come.”