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By Joann Wallenburn
Clearwater Resource Council 

Inspect Before Launch


Montana Mussel Response Team

A personal watercraft being inspected at a watercraft inspection station.

It's hard to find anyone who is unaware of the invasive mussel problem in Montana. The positive finding of invasive mussels in Tiber Reservoir is resulting in significant effects on recreational boating across the state. As we are approaching ice-off and a new boating season, we need to be aware of and prepared for this 'new normal'.

Following an open comment period, the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission approved several rules related to boating in Montana in an effort to prevent overland transmission of the invasive mussels. 'Inspect Before Launch' is required for all boats entering the state or crossing the continental divide from east to west.

Some rules are specific to Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs where boaters must launch and exit at designated boat ramps, unless they are officially certified as local boaters by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP).

The local boater program will allow watercraft owners to complete educational training on aquatic invasive species and sign an agreement with FWP pledging to only use the boat at either Tiber or Canyon Ferry reservoir. Local boaters would not be required to decontaminate their boat each time they leave Tiber or Canyon Ferry but they still must stop at inspection stations where they will be expedited through after a brief interview.

Should a certified local boater want to use the watercraft at another waterbody, as part of the pledge, the boat owner would be required to get the watercraft decontaminated with hot water. Boaters that are not registered as local boaters must be inspected and, if necessary, decontaminated upon exit and must only use designated access sites.

Glacier National Park initially closed all waters to all watercraft. Those restrictions have been relaxed to allow hand-propelled, non-trailered watercraft to recreate in the park but they must be inspected before launching.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have also closed all reservation waters, excluding Flathead Lake and the lower Flathead River, to all watercraft except hand-propelled, non-trailered watercraft that must be inspected before launching. The watercraft inspection station in Pablo is already up and running.

All waters on the Blackfeet Reservation are currently closed to all watercraft. The Tribal Council will consider changes to the restrictions in early April. The Tribe is adding a third watercraft inspection station along its southern boundary.

Last week, the Clearwater Resource Council hosted an organizational meeting of local citizens and government agencies to start formulating an 'Inspect Before Launch' program custom-designed for our local waters. Our monitoring and outreach partners, the Blackfoot Challenge, Missoula County Weed District and Swan Valley Connections are all participating in this discussion. This will be a pilot program that may help other regions develop their own 'Inspect Before Launch' programs.

We applaud all of the advances made by the state agencies but we cannot rely solely on the government. We must stand up and help ourselves by initiating even stronger measures to protect our precious resources.

How does 'Inspect Before Launch' differ from the rules that were in place last year? The old rule was simply that all watercraft must stop at a watercraft inspection station. If a boater didn't pass an inspection station, or it was closed, he was free to launch without inspection. 'Inspect Before Launch' puts the burden on the boater to obtain an inspection if required by the new rules, which could mean going back to an inspection station when it is open. Failure to obtain a required inspection before launching could result in fines. Repeated failures have even more serious consequences.

Those consequences will not undo any harm that has already been done by an uninspected, contaminated boat launching in our lakes. That is why many in our community feel we need to do more. We need to verify that boats have required inspections before launching in our waters. That is a primary goal of the local 'Inspect Before Launch' program.

If you would like to be a part of formulating this program or helping with boots-on-the-ground, please contact Joann at (406) 210-8453 or

Containing the risk of spreading mussels from mussel-fouled waters to our waters is a must. When boaters transport water in their boats they can spread destructive mussels that are so small at the larvae stage they can only be seen under a microscope.

To combat the spread of all aquatic invasive species, CRC joins Montana officials in urging boaters and anglers to Clean, Drain and Dry their watercraft, trailers and equipment when they leave the water as a guarantee that they're not spreading invasive mussels. A cleaned, drained and dry boat will also make for a quick inspection.


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