Montana stepped up its fight against aquatic invasive species significantly in 2017, with a focus on prevention, education, and early detection efforts statewide.
Fish, Wildlife and Parks AIS inspectors saw more than 85,700 watercraft come through 35 inspection stations this year. They intercepted 17 boats transporting zebra or quagga mussels into the state.
FWP and partner agencies collected more than 1,500 plankton samples from 240 waterbodies for early detection monitoring of invasive mussel larvae and other AIS. Plankton tow sampling tests a massive amount of water and is considered the most reliable method for detecting invasive mussel larvae. This year’s monitoring was nearly triple the effort from 2016. No invasive mussel larvae or adults were observed in Montana waters this year.
“We appreciate the vital work that FWP staff and our partners accomplished this year and remain committed to working together in 2018,” said FWP Director, Martha Williams. “Our success in battling the spread of invasive species depends greatly on these partnerships and working together on behalf of the public and the resources we manage.”
FWP focused on Tiber and Canyon Ferry Reservoirs due to the detection of invasive mussel larvae in Tiber and a suspect detection in Canyon Ferry in November 2016. As the only two water bodies in Montana where mussels were detected or suspected, a number of efforts were made to find any further presence of mussels. These efforts included plankton tow sampling, underwater inspections using scuba divers and snorkelers, mussel detecting dogs and the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling. This year 128 plankton tow samples taken at Tiber and 147 samples taken at Canyon Ferry were analyzed through microscopy for the presence of invasive mussel larvae. Through all sampling efforts, no adult mussels or larvae were found.
FWP, in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey, collected eDNA samples from Tiber Reservoir this season in an effort to compare invasive mussel early detection sampling methods. Several of the eDNA samples collected from Tiber indicated the presence of invasive mussel DNA.
The use of eDNA as a sampling method for early detection of invasive mussels is an emerging technology and research into the method is ongoing. Due to questions surrounding this method, FWP and the Montana Invasive Species Council are forming a scientific advisory panel to provide guidance on the use of DNA methods for early detection of invasive mussel. The presence of invasive mussels in the eDNA samples from Tiber are not conclusive about the presence of invasive mussels in the reservoir. The most conclusive and accepted test is the plankton tow sampling, all of which came back negative for the presence of invasive mussels in 2017.
FWP is evaluating the AIS Program and is planning improvements in 2018. Changes will include enhanced training for inspection staff, improved efficiency at inspection stations, and expanded AIS early detection monitoring. Mandatory inspection and decontamination requirements will remain in effect for boats exiting Tiber and Canyon Ferry Reservoirs next season. In addition, all watercraft entering the state and crossing west over the Continental Divide are required to be inspected.
FWP encourages everyone to help protect Montana’s waterways. Be sure your boat is clean, drained and dry every time it leaves the water.