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Flathead biologists fighting to keep invasive mussels out of Montana waters

Posted at 9:00 PM, Jun 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-18 16:06:36-04

POLSON – The efforts to watch out for aquatic invasive species are ramping up with the return of boating season.

The Flathead Lake Biological Station is in the middle of the fight to keep our waters clean and pure.

Invasive mussel larvae were detected in the Tiber and Canyon Ferry Reservoir in 2016.

Luckily, none were ever detected in the state of Montana, however, scientists still need to monitor Montana’s water bodies in case of contamination.

Invasive mussels clog pipes, drains, boats and ruin the lake’s ecosystem and Phil Matson’s team tests Flathead Lake for any detection of invasive mussel species every summer.

It’s not an easy job. Matson tells MTN there are 31 spots around Flathead Lake that his team needs to test.

Usually Matson’s team begins testing in May, however this year the lake’s temperatures were too cold. June 17th is the first day his team could test for the presence of AIS.

“With one sample we’re looking for the environmental DNA of the dreissenid mussels which you can find basically everywhere if a species is present. And the other sample is going for microscopy analysis,” explained Matson.

The different samples go to labs across the state for any detection of invasive mussel species.

Evan Smith with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe tells MTN News it’s a careful process to avoid potential cross-contamination. The team wears gloves and sanitizes every sample tube.

“If we do get a positive hit, we don’t want to be spreading it around. So, we’re just doing a very strict protocol to make sure we’re not doing any cross-contamination of any of our samples,’ says Smith.

You can do your part to prevent the spread of these mussels. Clean, drain and dry your watercraft and stop at mandatory boat checks before you set sail.

In addition to watercraft inspection areas, there are statewide decontamination sites in case your watercraft does not pass the inspection.

Protect our Waters has a map on their website where you can find various check and decontamination stations.

Story by Maren Siu, MTN News