Spend thousands now, or pay millions later. That's what Fremont County leaders are stressing to the state of Idaho about preventing the invasive dreissenid or zebra mussel from reaching Idaho.
The zebra mussel is a destructive invasive species that first came to the US in the 1980's via a cargo ship in the Great Lakes region. They've progressively spread throughout the continent's waterways and recently appeared at Canyon Ferry Reservoir, a popular recreation spot in Montana that's less than three hours from the Idaho border. Fremont county worries that if boaters don't properly clean their watercrafts and then come down to Idaho, they could introduce the mussels here.
"We just need the people in these authoritative positions to say, 'hey we have a problem here and we have the chance to not necessarily stop it, but slow it down,'" said Bryce Fowler, an invasive species specialist with Fremont County.
The little mussels are destructive in multiple ways. One is that they can completely change an ecosystem. Zebra mussels are filter feeders, meaning they take nutrients out of the water as it runs through their system. By multiplying quickly, they can out-compete and eventually kill-off native species by dramatically reducing the amount of food available in an ecosystem. They also have no natural predators in North America, meaning their isn't much to control their growth and spread.
Zebra mussels also cause problems because they can attach to almost anything, including water infrastructure equipment. The mussels can clog pipes, jam rotors, and they're difficult to remove. This means just maintaining equipment in infested waters is expensive and the costs add up quickly.
Fremont county leaders say a zebra mussel invasion would be catastrophic to the local economy. "I mean, everything that deals with water is going to be affected," said Fowler.
Two of the largest economic boosts in Fremont County are agriculture and outdoor recreation, both of which heavily rely on the region's water to happen.
County leaders are also concerned as they're at the head of the Snake River/Columbia River Basin. "So everything that we get is going to go downstream," said Fowler. "If we have a problem here, it immediately will become everyone's problem. And then everything from water to electricity to food would become more expensive because we would have to spend more money fighting the zebra mussels."
Fremont County commissioners hope the state of Idaho will provide more funding and effort to fight zebra mussels. "I would like to see them create a commission that was in charge of (fighting) invasive species," said Jordon Stoddard, the Fremont County Commissioner Chair. "That would be the only thing they did so they could devote their full attention to it."
Stoddard says the state is looking at charging extra for permits required by out-of-state boaters to help pay for more boat inspections sites. He also said Fremont County is looking at requiring every boat that comes from Montana to be cleaned, no matter what. "That's probably what we will try to do if it's possible," said Stoddard.
A link to page 1 of Fremont County's letter to Montana and Idaho state leaders can be found HERE.
Page 2 can be found HERE.