As state legislators return to Helena next week to try to balance the state budget, one of the programs facing deep cuts is tasked with protecting rivers and lakes in the Flathead Basin from invasive mussels. They may not be able to continue that work.
The Flathead Basin Commission was supposed to oversee a new pilot program next summer that would shore up protections against zebra and quagga mussels, invasive species that have caused millions of dollars of damage in infested states and changed lake ecosystems in ways we still don’t really understand.
But that pilot program may not happen if legislators follow a recommendation from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation to gut the Commission’s funding.
Caryn Miske is the Commission's executive director. She says its work adds a needed layer of protection for an imperiled river system.
"I do think we bear a special responsibility in the Flathead, because we are the headwaters of the Columbia, and if we’re fouled, it’s all flowing downhill from there. We take very seriously our role as the headwaters for the system."
The pilot project is currently stalled pending legal review of its funding mechanism, which consists of requiring boaters to buy new stickers.
The Flathead Basin Commission also partners with the Blackfeet and Flathead Tribes to run six boat inspection stations in summer months. Without funding, the Commission’s role in that work is also jeopardized.