MTPR

invasive species

Montana was invaded last summer. Not by land, not by air, but by water. A microscopic alien showed up in water samples from the Tiber Reservoir, opening the door to a wide range of potentially devastating impacts for Montana's fisheries, outdoor enthusiasts and industries.

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 examines Montana's efforts to detect and prevent their spread.

Corin Cates-Carney

Update: This is an extended version of the story we posted Thursday, Oct. 12, the original text is at the bottom of this post.

Along a rocky shoreline at Canyon Ferry Reservoir Thursday, if you listened closely, you could hear the sound of a dog sniffing, using its nose to search for invasive mussels threatening to overrun Montana waters.

Hilo, a three year old black lab, isn’t finding any evidence of the adult quagga or zebra mussels he’s been sent to search for along the shoreline.

Boat propeller encrusted with invasive mussels.
National Parks Service (PD)

A new group that aims to harmonize Montana’s response to invasive mussels, and prevent the economic and environmental damage they can cause, met for the first time Wednesday in Missoula.

Divers with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Montana FWP prepare to dive at Tiber Dam to look for adult zebra and/or quagga mussels, August 7, 2017.
Beth Saboe - MontanaPBS

Scuba divers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have spent the past three days in north-central Montana, scouring the waters of Tiber Dam for any signs of aquatic invasive mussels.

Last October, a juvenile mussel was found in a water sample from Tiber Reservoir by the Bureau of Reclamation, and suspicious samples were discovered in Canyon Ferry Reservoir, near Townsend. Since then, the state has ramped up its efforts to stave off a potentially destructive infestation of non-native quaqqa and zebra mussels.

Phil Matson collects a water sample from Flathead Lake for use in e-DNA testing for quagga and zebra mussels.
Nicky Ouellet

Wherever you go, you leave behind a tiny trace of yourself, a fingerprint even smaller than a cell that says you were here. Every organism does this, including the invasive quagga and zebra mussels the state is trying to keep out of Montana. This summer, a team of scientists in the Flathead Valley is using cutting-edge technology to detect the mussels’ genetic fingerprints sooner. They say early detection may offer the only hope for eradicating the mussels if they do get here.

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