A preemptive strike against invasive mussels

Posted 5/14/09

Only by sheer luck was a zebra mussel prevented from entering Flaming Gorge last month, thanks to cooperation by a boater and assistance by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force.

The prospect of zebra or …

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A preemptive strike against invasive mussels


Game and Fish appeals to legislators on unbidden mussel threatWyoming Game and Fish Department Director Steve Ferrell appealed to Wyoming legislators Tuesday to assist his department in a preemptive strike against aquatic invasive species, particularly zebra and quagga mussels. Zebra and quagga mussels have invaded the West and now are knocking on Wyoming's door.

Only by sheer luck was a zebra mussel prevented from entering Flaming Gorge last month, thanks to cooperation by a boater and assistance by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Aquatic Invasive Species Task Force.

The prospect of zebra or quagga mussels tainting Wyoming waters is real.

“I think the potential is there for sure,” Ferrell told the Wyoming Senate and House Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee during its meeting in Cody on Tuesday.

In 1988 zebra and quagga mussels turned up in the Great Lakes. In 2007, the mussels arrived in Arizona and California, and in 2008, they were discovered in Utah and Nebraska, Ferrell said.

The mussels are leap frogging, Ferrell said, by attaching to interstate-traveling boats.

Ferrell's strategy is to stop the spread before it starts.

He listed stages of that strategy, the first being public outreach and education, which the department has embarked on.

Ferrell told legislators the department has spent nearly $200,000 on public meetings and education around the state.

“The manpower is the biggest drain,” Ferrell said.

Rep. Dave Bonner, R-Powell, asked if the department had contacted municipal water users and irrigation districts during its public outreach, because zebra and quagga mussels attach to water lines and clog the pipes.

Ferrell said they had.

Bonner asked if zebra and quagga mussels could cling to waders.

Ferrell said out-of-state boats are the mussels' preferred transportation, but New Zealand mud snails will attach to waders or vegetation.

States in the East and West are struggling to cope with zebra and quagga mussels. According to the department, more than $100 billion is spent each year managing invasive species each year across the country.

Eradication of the species is nearly impossible, Ferrell said.

Preventive measures would cost nearly $1.8 biannually beginning in 2011, Ferrell said.

If containment of the invasive species becomes necessary, Ferrell said he could only speculate on the costs.

“The sky is the limit,” Ferrell said.

“Prevention is the best medicine,” Ferrell said.

Only about 1 percent of boats are inspected at docks in Wyoming. Inspecting for the mussels would be a very intense operation, said Cody Game Warden Craig Sax.

The primary means of removing mussels from boats is mechanical and chemical treatments, Ferrell said.

The crux of the problem is the department does not have the resources or the authority to inspect boats entering Wyoming, Ferrell said.

Sen. Kathryn Sessions, D-Cheyenne, suggested inspection of out-of-state boats could take place at truck weigh stations.

Ferrell said the department does not have the authority to prevent boats contaminated with mussels from entering Wyoming waters.

He said the department must make statutory changes and assign more personnel to implement broad-scale inspections.

Enforcement is the key, and the Legislature must provide the department with the authority to enforce and prohibit the transportation and release of zebra and quagga mussels, Ferrell said.

Sessions asked if the department could work with surrounding states.

Other state agencies, such as Utah, Colorado and Nebraska, have invasive species programs, and Ferrell said he believes his department can coordinate with those state agencies.

The Flaming Gorge incident was a very close call. The department is not absolutely sure if the mussels have invaded Wyoming, but has asked the public to keep their eyes peeled.

Ferrell said the department must conduct surveillance to ascertain if the mussels have infiltrated Wyoming waters.

“We don't know if they don't exist here,” Ferrell.

Legislators listened to Ferrell and other department officials, but hunting and fishing groups in attendance also offered their assistance.

“We'd also like to offer our support and cooperation,” said Dave Sweet of the Wyoming Council of Trout Unlimited in Cody.

Casper Game and Fish Commissioner Jerry Galles said the Legislature should make funding available to the department. He said they should study state invasive species programs that appear to be working, like Utah's.

According to one of Ferrell's fact sheets, Utah prohibits the mussels, has the authority to inspect, has invasive species funding and has penalties for violations.

Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, interim committee co-chairman, passed a motion to get the legislative ball rolling by drafting bills for the 2010 Legislature, which meets in February.

Sen. Kit Jennings, R-Casper, said Wyoming's lawmakers will adopt bills to address the issue with a zero-tolerance attitude toward the species.

Jennings said Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, would address giving Game and Fish the legal authority.

Invasive species bills will be developed and discussed in the Legislature's July meeting, Jennings said.