Officials from across the U.S. Northwest hope it's not too late to contain invasive mussels found for the first time in Montana.
State Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials announced Nov. 8 that larvae were discovered in the Tiber Reservoir, The Spokesman-Review reported.
During a meeting of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region coalition in Boise this week, officials from Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and three Canadian provinces discussed the troubling development.
"It's kind of like the nightmare you never wanted to have," Montana State Rep. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, said.
Eileen Ryce, fisheries division administrator for the Montana department, said the test results were bad news, but they show the state's detection system is working. Officials hope the infestation can be corralled before it spreads.
Officials across the region have been working to block quagga and zebra mussels from contaminating waterways as they have done across much of the rest of the nation.
The mussels can clog pipes and cover beaches, and they travel from one part of the country mainly by hitching rides on trailered boats and other watercraft. Idaho and other states have created boat checkpoints, where fish and wildlife officials stop recreationists who are traveling with boats to check the vehicles for any sign of the mussels.
State and federal officials from the Northwest worked together to persuade Congress to allocate $4 million to use in 2016 to help Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington expand the prevention efforts designed to keep the invasive mussels out. But the states have yet to receive the money.
"Had that money been there to help double the work being done at boat check points, the originator of these mussels might have been picked up before they were in the water," Cuffe said.
Eric Anderson, an Idaho public utilities commissioner who formerly served as a state representative, said there was a communication issue with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that resulted in the money hang-up. The Corps has interpreted the purpose of the money differently from the states, he said.
Lloyd Knight of the Idaho Department of Agriculture told the conference that the Montana discovery will lead to changes in Idaho's boat inspection programs, including re-examining which routes should be targeted for inspection stations.
Idaho requires an invasive species sticker on boats and watercraft, with the purchase price helping fund its boat inspection program; they cost $22 for out-of-state motorized boats and $7 for non-motorized craft. The $10 cost for in-state motorized boats is included in state boat license fees.