Senate bill creates fund to combat invasive mussels

Zebra mussels “clean” the water by removing the phytoplankton at the base of the food chain which can then affect species higher up on the food chain including game fish. This also allows sunlight to reach higher depths which can increase unwanted plant growth.

By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – Montana lawmakers are trying to be proactive about an aquatic invasive species recently discovered in Montana.

Officials found invasive mussels in Tiber Reservoir last fall and suspect contamination elsewhere as well. Aquatic Invasive Species, or AIS, are organisms that harm native ecosystems and that can have impacts on the commercial, agricultural and recreational activities that depend on those ecosystems.

Senate Bill 363 would require out-of-state owners of watercrafts to buy two decals in order to operate on waters in the state – one verifying the vessel passed an inspection and the other a registration decal. Those funds would be deposited in the state’s invasive species account to be used on prevention and control.

The Senate Natural Resource Committee will hear first testimony on the bill Friday.

“We’re making sure that we’re going to have something that’s effective, making sure that it is not going to be cost prohibitive and being something that can hopefully be a model for other states,” said Sen. Chas Vincent, R-Libby, who is carrying the bill.

Vincent said out-of-state watercrafts will be required to be cleaned in a process that has been established by an advisory committee. This would happen regardless if the boat had been cleaned prior to reaching the Montana border.

“Because this was brought from out of state, I believe that the out-of-staters that want to continue to use our waters are obligatory to paying the lionshare of the cost of what we’re having to do now that they came and brought this to us,” Vincent said.

The bill also seeks to charge hydroelectric facilities a $1 invasive species fee for every 2,500 kilowatt hour produced.

Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.