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2/6 – Quagga and Zebra Mussels in Idaho

Zebra and quagga mussels have infested North America’s Great Lakes as of about 30 years ago, disrupting the natural food chain and crowding out native species.  In recent years they’ve been found in Lake Mead and have spread to several other western states.

On this show, we were joined by Representative Eric Anderson of the Idaho State House of Representatives, Lloyd Knight, Administrator of the Division of Plant Industries at the Idaho State Department of Agriculture and Bas Hargrove, senior policy representative of the Nature Conservancy.

Unfortunately, due to a technical error, I am unable to upload a recording of our program.  A recap of our conversation follows:

Representative Anderson has served in the Idaho Legislature in 2004.  He came into the process of invasive species because of his concern with Eurasian Watermilfoil, a plant species that can take over bodies of water and was at that time a growing concern for his North Idaho District. He became a part of the 100th Meridian Initiative, a cooperative effort between local, state, provincial, regional and federal agencies to prevent the westward spread of zebra/quagga mussels and other aquatic nuisance species in North America.  Unfortunately, quagga and zebra mussels have made their way into Lake Mead, and the emphasis now is to keep them from spreading any further.

Lloyd stressed that the species has not yet made its way into Idaho, and that cooperative efforts to begin an education and inspection program of all incoming boats has been helpful.  In the 2010 legislative session, Representative Anderson co-sponsored legislation that would fund a statewide boat inspection program through the sales of stickers to boat operators.  While this legislation was initially met with resistance by some paddling and kayaking groups, many of these have come along in understanding the threat posed by such an infestation.

From the perspective of the conservation community, Bas noted that there is great interest in preserving waterways for endangered species and recreation.  Prevention is the primary goal, as efforts to control the species after they have been introduced into an environment have proven unsuccessful and could have the additional unwanted impact of hurting species that currently exist in those same habitats.

The threat of the species is great.  More, Representative Anderson would contend than is represented by any other single environmental issue.  More than one million larval mussels can exist in a test tube of water.  Once matured, the attach to surfaces like boats and pipes, can reproduce rapidly and live up to 30 days out of water.  Current estimates are that an infestation of quagga and zebra mussels will cost the state of Idaho nearly $100 million per year to manage, plus other costs associated with loss of revenue by industries like recreation and fishing.

To illustrate how great the threat is to Idaho waterways, and how great the need for prevention, Representative Anderson plans to take several hundred Idaho license plates to Lake Mead this summer to submerge them for several weeks while the accumulate mussels.  These plates will then be available to display at any of the sticker purchase locations around Idaho.

More information and a copy of the Idaho Invasive Species Plan can be found here.

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