Watershed Protection Advocates (WPA) of northwest Montana is an environmental advocacy organization concerned with the protection of the waters and other natural resources of northwest Montana. One of the key roles of WPA is to serve as a watchdog to defend and promote the sustainable, thoughtful and responsible use and management of natural resources. Holding agencies accountable is one critical part of the WPA mission.
This month, WPA commenced its assessment of the State’s Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) prevention and containment program.
“The protection of our valuable state waters is our utmost concern,” said Jan Metzmaker, Chair of WPA, “and we believe that this assessment will help us in furthering the WPA mission.” The assessment is being undertaken to identify gaps that can be addressed to increase program efficiency and effectiveness. Metzmaker further noted, “Millions of dollars are being spent annually on AIS prevention. Our communities are concerned that these funds be well spent and that the Columbia Basin is protected to the greatest extent possible.”
The first part of the WPA AIS assessment focused on conducting field work at Tiber Reservoir to determine how containment efforts actually operate on the ground. Tiber Reservoir is considered mussel-positive since the first detections of mussel veligers (larvae) in the fall of 2016. The results were sobering.
At the Tiber Marina watercraft inspection station (WIS), one of two mandatory WIS on Tiber Reservoir, a Lund boat with three live wells and one bait well was used as part of a quality control exercise. The boat had spent the day in Tiber Reservoir and was neither drained nor cleaned after use. Live bait was present in the bait well and all three live wells contained standing water.
The inspector at the Tiber Marina WIS was told that the boat would be leaving Tiber and would launch in Polson the following day. Although the inspector checked all three live wells, he failed to note the standing water in each well. The bait well was not inspected, nor was the boater asked about bait as required. The boat possessed two motors, which were presented at the WIS in an upright position. The inspector requested that both motors be lowered, causing the larger of the two motors to drain water onto the ground. No engine flush was performed on this motor prior to exiting the inspection station.
The boat was then hitch-sealed and allowed to exit Tiber Reservoir with standing water in the three live wells, live bait in the bait tank, and a motor which may have held residual water. Given the mussel positive status of Tiber Reservoi, the risk of carrying veligers in standing water is a grave concern.
The results from the assessment of the unstaffed boat launch sites were of equal concern. As per Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks rules, Montana residents who live east of the Continental Divide may enroll in the “certified boater” program. Certified boaters must complete an online training course which teaches participants how to properly clean, drain and dry their watercraft. Certified boaters can self-inspect their boats, enabling them to obtain expedited service at inspection stations. Certified boaters also receive a sticker for each side of their boat’s stern and another for the boat trailer. These stickers document that the boater is entitled to use the “local use only” boat launch sites. Local use only sites are not staffed with watercraft inspectors.
In other words, the program is premised on certifying local boaters and then providing them with stickers which allows them to use unstaffed launch sites. No one has tested whether this honor system is effective.
Moreover, in order for the certified boater program to be successful, all unstaffed launch sites must be gated to prevent unauthorized boaters from accessing these sites. Unfortunately, the gating was not functional at the two major local use only sites at Tiber. At the South bootlegger launch site, the chain on the concrete pylon was broken and any boat — local or nonlocal — could gain access to the reservoir. The situation at North bootlegger was similar. The chain on the concrete pylons was laying on the ground, allowing boaters to easily drive over the chain to access the launch site.
The second part of the WPA AIS assessment will focus on topics including inspection station protocols, monitoring, rapid response and the use of fiscal resources. WPA has submitted an information request to both MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks and MT DNRC. Caryn Miske, WPA Executive Director, said “It is our hope that both DNRC and FWP release the requested public information in a timely fashion so the entire AIS program can be properly assessed.” Miske further stated, “governmental transparency is critical in protecting the public’s right-to-know.”
WPA hopes to undertake this type of assessment on an annual basis to facilitate statutory and programmatic improvements. For more information, or if the public has had concerns or similar experiences at inspection stations contact Caryn Miske at 406.240.3453.