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Part 1:  Invasive mussel species are getting so bad, the government started a contest.  First, some background . . .
2 March 2018
We’re going to talk a little about invasive species here. Specifically invasive mussels. Why? Because they are a big threat to invade Idaho’s beautiful waterways, and if that should happen, that would change many things for the worse. And, because there is a nationwide contest underway seeking ideas to eliminate these invasive mussels. That’s kind of unusual, and we thought you might want to know about it.

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You’ve seen the boat inspection stations located around our state. Our closest inspection station is at the Samuels gas station on Highway 95 between Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint. These stations search for invasive species that are considered to be detrimental to Idaho’s waters and vegetation. The two big aquatic invaders of concern these days are quagga mussels and zebra mussels.

Native to the Black, Caspian, and Azov seas, these mussels were first found in North American in the Great Lakes in the 1980s. They are believed to have been carried to the Great Lakes via ships from those Eurasian lakes or other areas the mussels had invaded.

These non-native species cause considerable damage when they take up new homes. Their colonization of new areas alters habitat complexity and displaces native species. Their tendency to adhere to the shells of native mussels impacts feeding, breeding, and movement of native mussels, eventually killing them. They alter food webs, negatively impacting food sources for fish and other aquatic organisms. Their feeding methods tend to lead to longer term diversion of energy and nutrients to the lake bottoms, which in turn promotes the growth of lake bottom nuisance algae. These mussels also promote the growth of the bacteria that produces a type of botulism, which has led to thousands of waterbird deaths at the Great Lakes. They attach to hard surfaces such as water intake structures and other underwater structures, clogging them and causing inefficient operation. See, for example, the photograph accompanying this article of an Idaho license plate covered with attached mussels.

Estimated costs for controlling these mussels and their costs impacting electric-generation and water-treatment facilities in the United states range in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

One type of hard surface to which these mussels attach is boats. It is believed that overland transport of watercraft and equipment is one of the main ways these mussels move to new areas. They can live out of water for several days, so mussel spread by boats, both commercial and recreational, that are trailered from place to place and from one body of water to another, is a high-risk way for mussels to spread and to be carried to areas, such as Idaho, where they have not yet colonized. And that is why we have inspection stations: to find and eliminate mussels that might be transported into Idaho by unsuspecting boat owners entering Idaho from other areas where these mussels are already established.

Take a look at the U.S. Geological Survey map included with this story. It shows that only a few waterway systems in the United States remain unaffected by mussels, and only a few states are unaffected. So far, Idaho has had no permanent colonization from these invasive mussels, and the Columbia River system, the major waterway system of the Pacific Northwest, remains free of colonization to date.

And that is why our state, and many other states, put the effort and money into those boat and watercraft inspection stations. There are 20 such stations in Idaho, and three mobile inspection units traveling the highways. According to the website of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, over half a million inspections have been conducted since the program was begun in 2009. So far, those stations have intercepted and cleaned 218 mussel-fouled boats since 2009, boats that otherwise might have transported those mussels directly into Idaho waters.

Two mussel-infested boats have already been detected in 2018 in Idaho. Both of these were traveling on Highway 93, which runs through Twin Falls and Salmon, Idaho in the southern Idaho area. Both of those boats had originated from Arizona.

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To see a larger size version of this map, click here.

So what can we do to keep those invasive mussels out? Some believe keeping them out will ultimately be impossible. To give it our best effort, here is what we can do: Check boats thoroughly for mussels before putting them into lakes and rivers, and check for mussels when they are removed from waterways. Be particularly vigilant if your boat has been used in another state. Next, stop at those inspection stations. Aside from it being illegal to bypass them if you have a boat, stopping there will be doing one of the few things we can to try to block the advance of these dangerous invasive mussels into the relatively pristine waters of our state. Finally, now that we have a better understanding of the problem, let’s be patient and nice with those folks who man those stations. They really aren’t there to harass us, they are serving on the front lines of keeping those mussels out.

This brings us now to an innovative and unusual plan to find some way that will effectively combat these mussels. Sounds kind of crazy, but the Bureau of Reclamation has put together a contest, with a $100,000 prize, to find a way to eradicate invasive zebra and quagga mussels. The competition received 99 entries from people with ideas and plans for this eradication.

To learn more about this mussel eradication idea competition, move on to read the companion article listed right after this exciting article in NewsBF. You should be able to find the companion article about the contest listed right after this article. The Part 2 companion article originally appeared in the Columbia Basin Bulletin. It can be found right here on NewsBF, and is entitled Bureau Receives 99 Proposals in Competition for Solutions to Stop Spread of Invasive Mussels.
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