Even one confirmed detection of quagga or zebra mussels could have devastating economic and environmental consequence for the Flathead Reservation. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are mounting a campaign to prevent that from happening.
According to Georgia Smies, the threat of aquatic invasive species on tribal water bodies isn’t just a resource management issue, "but this is a part of the tribes' sacred identity that has to be protected at all costs."
Smies, an aquatic biologist for the CSKT, is part of a technical team of scientists and managers focused on preventing invasive species such as quagga and zebra mussels from gaining a foothold in tribal waters.
If these animals became established in the waters of the Flathead basin, Smies says:
"They can completely cover every available surface. The shoreline of Flathead Lake for instance would go from having this beautiful glacial rock to being sharp-edged and jagged."
Quagga mussels quickly strip nutrients out of the water:
"Which causes a slow starvation for all other animal species that depend of phytoplankton that invasive mussels remove. That's one of the first and really significant damaging impacts these animals can have," Smies says.
The tribes are hosting two public information meetings on aquatic invasive species this month. The first is Tuesday the 21st at Salish Kootenai College in Pablo from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. The second will be held at KwaTawNuk Resort in Polson on March 28th.
Experts compare these invasive mussels to cancer, saying prevention and early detection are the best ways to beat them:
That means every single watercraft – from powerboats to paddleboards – will be inspected prior to launch.
"They need to clean, drain and dry their watercraft," says Smies.
What's more, officials urge boaters to avoid lake-hopping; in other words, if possible, try to dedicate your boating to one lake. That lowers the risk of cross contamination.