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Courtesy of the Billings Gazette

Interior Secretary Zinke Hails Effort to Fight Invasive Mussels

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has announced a new initiative to combat the spread of invasive mussels across the American West, in particular in Montana, his home state.

According to KBZK, Zinke hailed the initiative (which you can look at here) as an interagency effort, highlighting the many state, federal and Tribal agencies which would be affected by an outbreak in mussels.

The announcement comes just eight months after several waterways in Montana (the Tiber Reservoir, Canyon Ferry, the Missouri River upstream of Townsend and the Milk River downstream of the Nelson Reservoir) came back with worrying test results. Indeed, invasive mussel larvae were found in the Tiber Reservoir; the other results came back as “suspect,” according to KBZK.

Invasive mussels are problematic since they grow and expand rapidly, clogging infrastructure and even boat engines. They also displace native species, essentially putting ecosystems in chokeholds.

The mussels are currently an immense problem in the Great Lakes region, with half-a-billion in damages incurred annually. Western officials have watched with trepidation the Great Lakes region, hoping the mussel would not find its way west. Indeed, many officials in the Columbia and Colorado River Basins are especially worried. From KBZK:

The initiative protects areas in the West from the economic and ecological threats posed by the invasive species. It also includes more than 41 measures.

Other parts of the package include actions such as preventing and containing the spread of invasive mussels by inspecting and decontaminating recreational watercraft—one of the primary pathways of spread; enhancing sampling efforts and detection techniques to search for new introductions; and convening workshops to share best management practices on control strategies.

Invasive mussels also may disrupt ecosystems to the degree that they may cause new listings under the Endangered Species Act. In addition, mussel infestations threaten agriculture, navigation locks and the biodiversity that supports much of the Western outdoor recreation industry.

“Stopping the spread of invasive mussels and increasing our Federal-State-Tribal coordination are both critical priorities in order to ensure that we maintain hydro-power as a clean, reliable, cost-effective source of energy for the West and protect our outdoor tourism economies,” said Secretary Zinke. “Protecting our waterways and ecosystems is not a partisan issue and I’m glad to work with governors as the states, tribes and federal government combat the spread of invasive species. By working as an integrated team to prevent, contain and control invasive mussels, Americans will be able to experience the full benefits of hydro-power and enjoy their rivers, lakes and streams for recreation for years to come.”

Montana is one of 10 states participating in the initiative. Other states include Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

Agencies involved on the team include staff from Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management as well as tribes, state representatives, and staff from other departments including the Army Corps of Engineers Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the State Department.

The Interior’s bureaus collectively spend about $8 million a year on combating invasive mussels. In the current fiscal year, Interior is increasing that spending by $1 million through the Bureau of Reclamation.

In addition, the Bureau of Indian Affairs recently awarded $683,000 in project funding to tribes in the Pacific Northwest to help prevent the spread of the invasive species.

Going ahead to Fiscal Year 2018, the Interior has asked for an addition $4.5 million for the Reclamation division.

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