Montana’s Environmental Quality Council is trying to find a fair way to raise $6.5 million a year to fund the state’s aquatic invasive species program that screens boats for potential costly invaders.
The money would pay for most of the 30-some boat inspection and decontamination stations statewide, lake sampling and education and outreach about aquatic invasive species.
The state ramped up its AIS program in 2016 after invasive zebra and quagga mussels were detected in Tiber Reservoir. The mussels have had devastating impacts to energy, water and irrigation systems and ecosystems in states they’ve invaded.
Currently, Montana funds its AIS program through fees on hydroelectric producers and coops, which make up $3.7 million a year, and and a prevention pass anglers are required to buy that adds up to about $3 million per year. But legislators never meant for those funding sources to be permanent. The fees sunset next year.
Libby Senator Chas Vincent chairs the EQC, which is considering what he calls a “buffet of options.”
"While it seems on its face like an easy task, once you start getting into where these sources are going to come from, it gets complicated very quick," Vincent said. "The issue of fairness is really what we're trying to strike a balance on."
The EQC is proposing a combination of state general fund money, gas taxes on motorboats, and angler and boat fees, which would apply to canoes and kayaks as well as motorboats. Depending on public feedback the Council receives through July 9, it may recommend its proposal during the 2019 legislative session.
Members of the EQC have wondered at recent meetings whether a boat and angler fee would deter out-of-staters from coming to Montana to fish and recreate. Last year Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks recorded a dip in two-day and 10-day nonresident fishing permit sales. Some attribute that to the $15 non-resident AIS prevention pass, but others say wildfire smoke led many people to cancel vacations to Big Sky Country.
Vincent says regardless of where the funding comes from, the state needs to continue its strong defense of Montana’s waters.
"The program needs to continue," Vincent said. "Folks are finally coming to terms with what it means, what does zebra mussel infestations mean to the state and to our way of life and to things like our energy bills."
FWP has screened 6,00 boats since opening inspection stations in March and prevented five infested boats from heading out on the water.
Send comments to:
Legislative Services Division
attn: Hope Stockwell
PO Box 201704
Helena, MT 59620
firstname.lastname@example.org (include ‘AIS funding proposal’ in the subject line)