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By Willis Curdy
Missoula, Mont. 

Help prevent the spread of mussels

 

February 21, 2019



If zebra mussels are allowed to gain a foothold in Montana waters, it could cost Montanans hundreds of millions of dollars per year.

It might seem dramatic, but it’s true—certain invasive species of mussels could do a massive amount of damage to Montana lakes, rivers and water supply. If we don’t do anything about it, it’ll be Montanans footing the bill.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation released a new report outlining the enormous economic damage to Montana’s economy if invasive mussels were allowed to proliferate in Montana waters.

The annual cost to Montana’s economy could be as high as $234 million per year if invasive mussels are allowed to damage our water ecosystems—and it’s Montanans’ wallets that are hit the hardest. The agricultural industry, hydropower facilities, drinking water suppliers, property values and the outdoor recreation industry would take big financial hits, such as an estimated loss to lake shore property values of $497.4 million.

Invasive mussels are referred to as “ecosystem engineers” because they completely change lake and river ecosystems function and structure. They were first detected in the Tiber Reservoir in 2016, and since then, Montana has had to work double-time to protect our state from invasive mussel encroachment.

Luckily, the 2017 Montana Legislature found a bipartisan, cost-effective solution to establish a research, inspection and prevention program with enough funding to keep it going for two years. Thanks to the help of our tribal and federal partners, Montana has been able to prevent a documented infestation in our waters.

Now, it’s time for the 2019 Legislative Session to act on this pressing issue once again.

With the help of my colleagues, I hope we can find a way to continue funding this program with a common-sense funding mechanism that doesn’t let the burden fall entirely on the shoulders of Montana taxpayers. In addition to extending this critical mussel detection program, the legislature will also ask the Department of Interior to take on their fair share of the work and ramp up inspections on boats leaving federally administered, mussel-infested reservoirs.

Montanans have stepped up to the plate to fund our inspection and education program, because we know that if we don’t, it could cost us hundreds of millions of dollars more just to handle the damages. It’s an investment into our future and the future of Montana’s economy.

Our legislature is committed to continuing to fund our program - but we can’t do this alone. Montana is the headwaters of the Columbia River system and the important work we do to prevent the spread of invasive mussels has a major impact downstream. That’s why Montana’s executive and legislative branches need to reach out to our sister states for assistance in financially supporting our program.

Montanans should be applauded for their past support for our aquatic invasive species program. It’s time to renew funding for our program and protect Montana’s waterways, economy, and the land that makes us the Last Best State.

Willis Curdy - House District 98 in Missoula County and is the sponsor of House Bill 32, the Aquatic Invasive Species funding bill

 

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