Wyo Game and Fish Department discusses aquatic invasive species concerns
Casper – With a wide variety of wildlife issues present in Wyoming, Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Director Scott Talbott noted that one of the Department’s newest and biggest program related to water is the Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) program, which was initiated nearly three years ago.
“Our AIS program looks at how we are going to keep quagga and zebra mussels out of the state of Wyoming,” Talbott said. “Certainly from a wildlife and aquatic perspective, we don’t want them here, and anyone who deals with industrial, agricultural or municipal water really doesn’t want the critters here, either.”
Talbott addressed attendees of the 2014 Wyoming Water Association Annual Meeting and noted that WGFD has taken an intensive effort to combat the threat of invasive quagga and zebra mussels.
In Lake Powell, where the mussels are prevalent, nearly $17 million is spent each year removing the species from culverts and grates.
“Once we end up with the mussels, it is an expensive proposition,” he continued.
Both quagga and zebra mussels can be transmitted via watercraft, fishermen and any carrier of water.
“One of the main transmission routes is on watercraft,” Talbott explained. “They also have a larval stage where they are microscopic and can be moved unintentionally.”
In an effort to reduce the possibility of transmission, the WGFD instituted a watercraft check program for those boats moving between states that pose a risk of transmission of mussels. Boats that are launched in only Wyoming waters pose no threat of carrying mussels, as the species is not currently present in the state.
“We sat at the ports of entry around the state of Wyoming, so we could detect boats coming from high risk areas,” he said, noting that high-risk lakes include Lake Powell in Utah and Pueblo Reservoir in Colorado. “Unfortunately, Angostura Reservoir in South Dakota was documented with quagga and zebra mussels a month ago. That presents a significant threat to Keyhole Reservoir.”
In working with the Wyoming Department of Transportation and State Parks, Talbott noted that efforts are in place for a robust effort to check watercraft on the routes between South Dakota and Wyoming. Hopefully, Wyoming employees will be able to identify and decontaminate high-risk boats from South Dakota to prevent the spread of the invasive mussels.
“We’ve sampled over 50 waters in Wyoming to determine if we already have larvae here,” Talbott said. “We have also inspected over 40,000 boats that have come in and out of Wyoming. There were 11 boats this year that had mussels attached, and fortunately, the mussels were all dead.”
Though this year, no live mussels were discovered, in 2013 one boat was found to have live mussels attached.
“In addition, we have decontamination at the ports of entry,” he continued. “In 2012, we decontaminated 94 high-risk boats, and at the ports, we decontaminated 860 boats in 2013.”
“We have a small army of folks working on this program,” Talbott added.
The $2.6 million funding the program comes from the General Fund and supports only one permanent employee.
“We will continue to work with this money into the future,” Talbott added. “Hopefully we will not be cursed with these critters.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.