Agencies Working To Keep Harmful Plants And Animals Out

zebramusselsThey are about the size of a dime, reproduce rapidly and can attach to any hard surface. If they become established in Washington, they could cause hundreds of millions of dollars a year in damage.

They are zebra and quagga mussels, and a partnership of state agencies is implementing a new strategy to make sure these critters don’t hitchhike on watercraft and spread into Washington’s waterways.

“If introduced into the Columbia River system, zebra and quagga mussels could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost hydropower production and damages to irrigation systems. They also would shut down state rivers and lakes to boating, fishing and commercial businesses,” said Wendy Brown executive coordinator of the Washington Invasive Species Council.

Beginning this week, the Washington State Department of Transportation will notify commercial haulers of oversize watercraft that their oversize load permit information is being provided to the Washington State Patrol and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and that state law prohibits the transport of aquatic invasive species. When the cargo appears at a Washington port of entry, state inspectors will look for zebra and quagga mussels. The permit application lists a toll-free telephone number for more information.

The partnership is just one way the Washington Invasive Species Council, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Washington State Patrol and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are working to keep zebra and quagga mussels and other potentially invasive plants, animals and pathogens out of Washington.

“The only way these invaders can move to a new body of water is by traveling on the roads,” said Chris Christopher, director of maintenance operations for the Washington State Department of Transportation. “So we’re working together to stop them from hitching a ride into our state’s lakes and rivers.”

Zebra and quagga mussels clog water intake pipes and filters, reducing water pumping capabilities for power and water treatment plants. Once established, these mussels change ecosystems and consume food sources critical to native mussels and other species, such as salmon and trout.

“The Washington State Patrol has a key inspection role in this partnership,” said Bill Balcom, a commercial vehicle enforcement officer with the Washington State Patrol. “Our officers are trained to look for the mussels as the vessels come through our ports of entry and will work closely with the Department of Fish and Wildlife when we find the mussels.”

In addition to inspections through the permit process, the agencies are working to educate Washington boaters and those who tow vessels across state lines to Washington.

“It’s both dangerous to our ecosystem and illegal to transport invasive species,” said Allen Pleus, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s aquatic invasive species coordinator. “Keeping invasive species out is vital, and all citizens should be aware of what they look like and how to prevent them from entering the state.”

More about zebra and quagga mussels

·         Washington Invasive Species Council zebra and quagga mussels information: www.invasivespecies.wa.gov/priorities/zebra_quagga_mussels.shtml

·         Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Aquatic Invasive Species: www.wdfw.wa.gov/ais/