Friday, September 10, 2010

Invasive species present grave concern


Anyone who tows a boat into Idaho is required to stop and have it inspected for invasive plants or small mussels clinging to the hull or outdrive. Normally it's a five-minute or less stop that may be inconvenient for some people. But for Idaho agriculture it's imperative to keep our state clean of these clingy critters and plants.

There are dozens of invasive species out there to be concerned about. But mainly, state officials are on the lookout for quagga mussels and zebra mussels. These little creepers cause billions of dollars of damage in the U.S. every year. They can attach to irrigation pipes or any other water-delivery pipe and clog it off. They also compete with native plants and animals for food—they eat phytoplankton—and could cause the demise of native fish populations.

Both of these mussels are small and can attach to boat hulls, boat engines, fishing tackle and nets and hundreds of other possible tools or recreational gear. And that's how they spread from one body of water to another.

Both of these mussels were introduced into the Great Lakes in the 1980s through ballast water dumped by foreign ships. Both are native to the Caspian Sea and can survive out of water for several days, or even up to a month under certain conditions.

Quagga mussels can tolerate a much wider range of temperatures and water depths than zebra mussels can. They can also tolerate brackish water, and are able to thrive in areas that zebra mussels cannot. The quagga mussel is usually light tan to almost white, with narrow stripes. It is fan-shaped and rounded on the edges. The zebra mussel shell is flat where the two shells attach. The quagga mussel is in Lake Mead, near Boulder City, Nev., and Lake Havasu and Lake Mohave on the California/Arizona border.

Zebra mussels have spread to more than 20 states, and two Canadian provinces. They can be on aquatic plants attached to boats or trailers, or as microscopic larvae in bilges, live wells, motor-cooling and other water systems, or attached to hulls, especially around trim tabs, transducers, keels or propellers.

Usually the zebra mussel is about the size of an adult fingernail, but can be as large as 2 inches, or as small as a sesame seed. Where introduced, they threaten native fish and wildlife by consuming available food and smothering native species. They clog power plant and other water intakes, costing taxpayers millions.

The Idaho Farm Bureau supports the aggressive efforts of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture and other cooperating state and federal agencies to keep a vigilant guard against these troublesome pests, a battle that has been championed in the state through the tireless efforts of Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake.

Some of these pests are established in our neighboring states, which makes this situation even more serious. For more information on invasive species, go to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture home page at and click on the Invasive Species tab. We encourage all boat owners to comply with inspections, and if you see anyone towing a boat that fails to stop at a boat inspection station, please take down a license plate number and report it to the Idaho Invasive Species Hotline at (877) 336-8676.

Frank Priestley is president of the Idaho Farm Bureau.

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