Conservation Corner: Zebras in Idaho?

By Sarah Garcia
Reader Columnist

Sandpoint is synonymous with breath taking beauty made up of pine covered mountain peaks and beautiful blue waters. For many Bonner County natives, the unparalleled beauty is burned into our souls and calls us back home no matter how far you’ve traveled. Only as a returning adult does one fully grasp the rare blessing we have to call this place home. Each summer thousands of visitors travel from all 50 states and many Canadian provinces to recreate in the beautiful outdoors we call home. Many of these visitors come to play in lake Pend Oreille and the surrounding waterways bringing with them their boats, kayaks, paddle boards, etc. 

A national map of where boaters are coming from when passing through the Clark Fork Aquatic Inspection Station. Courtesy image.

Unfortunately, there is a very real threat to the ecosystem, waterways and our small-town economy. Aquatic Invasive species. The Quagga-Zebra mussels, being the most notorious of these species, are invasive mussels who are gluttonous filter feeders that eliminate the bottom of the food chain, ultimately destroying the entire food web and as such the abundant fishery. 

To date, no invasive mussels have been found in Idaho waters. If mussels were introduced to our waters, it would cost Idaho approximately $100 million annually to manage their impacts as eradication would be unlikely. These bivalves attach themselves to hard and soft surfaces and don’t let go. Then they multiply at an exponential rate. The Idaho Invasive Species act was passed in 2008 to address this serious threat. This legislation required that all watercraft traveling in Idaho must be inspected. The Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s watercraft inspection program strategically placed 20 watercraft inspection stations throughout the state to prevent the introduction of invasive species. There are three inspection stations in Bonner County: Albeni Falls, Clark Fork and Samuels. During the 2018 season, our stations inspected 21,833 boats; 39 boats were hot washed as a precaution and two mussel-fouled (dead and non-viable) boats were discovered.  

Each year, as the inspection stations spring to life, we hear boater’s express frustration and confusion as to why these stations are required and we see boats fly by only to be turned around by law enforcement. While we understand the desire to get out on the water as soon as possible these inspections are critical to maintaining this beloved resource. When you pull into the station you will be greeted by two inspectors the first will visit with you while the second inspector does a quick visual inspection of your boat and trailer. The inspector’s questions are designed to determine if you may have visited areas with invasive mussels. Because invasive mussels attach to hard surfaces and need water to survive, a thorough inspection of all boat components: anchor ropes, dry wells, bilges, trailers, will take place if traveling from a high-risk water body. 

What: Watercraft inspection stations

When: May – September from dawn to dark

Who: If it floats, it’s a boat! Any watercraft over 10 feet including canoes, paddle boards, kayaks and all boats.

Where: Albeni Falls, Clark Fork and Samuels stations — these stations are identified by lighted reader boards.

Although the prevention of quagga-zebra mussels is a focus of the inspection; identifying, documenting and removing invasive weeds is also an important part of the process. While the Pend Oreille Basin already has number of invasive plants, we don’t want new ones, and we don’t want our weeds to end up in other lakes throughout the country. 

What can you do? Clean, drain, dry your watercraft and all your equipment! Mussels and other aquatic invasive organisms need water to survive. Please remember to purchase your invasive species sticker which is required in Idaho. Registering your boat in Idaho is the cheapest way to purchase this sticker for motorized vessels. Only $10 with registration! 

If you are interested in joining our inspection crew this summer, please send your letter of interest to [email protected] If you have additional questions or concerns regarding invasive species, please visit the ISDA’s invasive species website www.invasivespecies.idaho.gov. Here you will find detailed information regarding invasive species, noxious weeds, watercraft inspections and frequently asked questions. 

We look forward to seeing all of you this summer at the watercraft stations! 

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