Western Agencies Raise the Bar to Ward off Aquatic Invasive Species

August 9, 2010

According to a recent National Invasive Species Council estimate, a new exotic species enters North America every 14 weeks. Federal regulations cannot keep up with such an onslaught so local groups have to step in. To head off the spread of zebra and quagga mussels, as well as other unwanted hitchhikers, some organizations set up voluntary boat washing and inspection stations. However, other agencies in Idaho, California, and Colorado have taken it to a completely different level.

Beginning in June 2009, any boat that is registered in Idaho, or another state, and any non-motorized vessel (canoe, kayak, raft, drift boat, etc.) will be required to purchase and display Idaho Invasive Species Fund stickers in order to legally launch and operate in the state. Only inflatable, non-motorized vessels less than 10 feet in length are exempted. The fees generated from the sale of stickers will fund vessel inspections, washing stations, and informational materials that will help Idaho prevent the introduction of aquatic invasive species.

Boaters launching in many California lakes are required to have an inspection sticker before entering a water body. In some counties, there is no charge. However, at Lake Tahoe, starting June 2009, boaters will pay a small fee to fund an inspection program. Fees range depending on vessel size and surcharges are added for vessels with ballast tanks, live wells and bladders. When a vessel comes out of the lake, an inspection seal will be attached to boats so that they do not have to be inspected or pay a fee again as long as the boat returns with the seal intact. The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) sets up mandatory boat inspections along some highways to check for quagga and zebra mussels. Vehicles pulling watercraft are inspected while the owners are asked a series of questions. Clean vessels are released but boaters with suspect vessels are inspected further by biologists and specially trained detection dogs. Dirty vessels that have not been cleaned, drained, and dried out could be quarantined, although DFG officials said they do not anticipate any quarantine issues.

When zebra and quagga mussels were found in Lake Pueblo, Colorado in 2008, the state park implemented mandatory inspections for watercraft entering and leaving the lake. This year, the Colorado State Parks Board approved a statewide mandatory boat inspection program for lakes within the parks. In addition, many other lake and reservoir agencies are requiring strict inspections.

Even though there are no enforced inspections in thousands of lakes across the country, individual boat owners and lake groups can assist in preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species. Visit www.protectyourwaters.net for complete information about cleaning watercraft. For ideas on setting up an inspection and decontamination program at your lake view a presentation on watercraft inspection and decontamination compiled by Portland State University’s Center for Lakes and Reservoirs.