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Montana news about the environment, natural resources, wildlife, climate change and more.

Wildlife officials detect invasive mussels, urge vigilance

FWP has inspected more than 23,000 watercraft as part of its effort to keep the mussels, which can cause millions of dollars of damage to hydropower dams and irrigation systems, out of Montana’s waterways.
Katrin Frye

As spring approaches, wildlife officials are reminding visitors and Montana residents to take steps to avoid the spread of aquatic invasive species while boating and angling.

Inspectors with Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) on March 10 intercepted the first boat of 2024 fouled by invasive mussels at a check station in Anaconda. The department said the boat was fully decontaminated at the site.

Invasive zebra and quagga mussels can have devastating ecological impacts on water bodies, as well as damaging irrigation and hydropower infrastructure. That’s according to Tom Woolf, who heads FWP’s Aquatic Invasive Species Bureau.

“Zebra and quagga mussels, they actually stick to things – inside of pipes and pumps, inside of motors, that type of thing – and they obstruct flow,” Woolf said.

All boaters in Montana, including those with non-motorized boats like canoes and kayaks, are required to submit their boat for inspection anytime they pass a check station. Boaters coming from out of state must obtain an inspection before launching on Montana waters.

The department reported intercepting more than 50 mussel-fouled boats in 2023.

Woolf said boaters and anglers can proactively stop the spread of invasive species by thoroughly cleaning, draining and drying boats and waders after each use.

“Always clean, drain and dry your boat, even if you’re a Montana resident moving internally within Montana,” Woolf said.

What happens if Montana fails to stop the coming invasion of zebra and quagga mussels threatening the state's water bodies? MTPR's Nicky Ouellet looks into Montana's future (or one possible future) to see how the invasive mussels changed the Great Lakes region and what Montana is doing to detect and prevent their spread.

John joined the Montana Public Radio team in August 2022. Born and raised in Helena, he graduated from the University of Montana’s School of Media Arts and created the Montana history podcast Land Grab. John can be contacted at
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