Invasives threaten B.C. waterways

by EVAN MATTHEWS 

Photo: Flickr.com, courtesy of Alberta Gov Seen here is propeller infested with Quagga Mussels, an invasive species.
Photo: Flickr.com, courtesy of Alberta Gov
Seen here is propeller infested with Quagga Mussels, an invasive species, though this photo came from Lake Mead, Arizona.

After a summer full of boat inspections for some, a few groups are lobbying together in order to make boat inspections mandatory for all who enter B.C.

There is still an impending threat to B.C. by the way of invasive mussels, according to The Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER), the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia and the Alberta Invasive Species Council, saying the Province needs to take preventative measures after the highly-damaging species were confirmed in Montana in early November.

“We’re sounding the alarm bells,” says Matt Morrison, executive director of PNWER.

The Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) is a statutory public/private non-profit created in 1991 by Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Washington and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

“As a region we must step up actions preventing boats from entering western Canada without critical inspection… We’re facing an imminent threat,” he says, noting Zebra and Quagga are the most common types of invasive mussels that choke out native flora.

Aquatic invasive species are non-native species, including mussels, plants and animals, which have the potential to harm the environment, economy and society.

Approximately 140 different aquatic invasive species are in Western Canada. Many continue to spread and cause serious damage by clogging waterways, reducing habitat, outcompeting native fish and wildlife populations, and impacting recreation, fishing and swimming.

The three organizations will hold an Emergency “Call to Action” meeting Dec. 9 in Vancouver with western Canadian leaders to map out next steps to prevent serious ecological and economic damage.

“We are calling on the federal government to match current provincial funding for mussel prevention and response,” says Morrison.

Invasive mussels are now a step closer to B.C., according to PNWER, with the recent report from Montana, along with other well-known infestations such as Lake Winnipeg.

As an example, Lake Winnipeg, the largest and arguably most famous lake in Manitoba, had Zebra Mussels spotted in its waters in 2013. Various experts have said the Manitoba government’s efforts were too late, and the ecosystem, and lake along with it, is soon to be dead.

The mussels also migrate quickly, according to experts, as the mussels spread through bodies of water, as well as by “hitchhiking” on boats hulls and trailers to move between disconnected water systems.

In the U.S., invasive freshwater mussels have cost an estimated $5B in prevention and control efforts since their arrival in 1988, according to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

If Zebra and Quagga mussels were introduced into B.C. waters, Morrison says it would cost at least $43M per year in damages to infrastructure, hydropower facilities, water extraction activities and recreational boaters, and would have significant impacts on native fish stocks.

Provincial governments have recently signed the Western Canada Invasive Species Agreement to work together, but PNWER and ISCBC are saying it’s is not enough.

At a PNWER meeting last week, Morrison says recognition was given to the increased boat inspections in B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan, and special recognition was given to B.C.’s unique partnerships with FortisBC, BC Hydro, Columbia Power Corporation and the Columbia Basin Trust in helping fund the province’s prevention program.

However, the announcement of mussels confirmed in Montana greatly increases the risk of infestation in Western Canada.

“We need to look at all inspection tools, including sniffer dogs, to find the most cost-effective and sound approach,” says Brian Heise, chair of the Invasive Species Council of British Columbia.

“Every boat club and marine enthusiast in the province needs to commit to protecting our waters,” he says.

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