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BOISE — If quagga mussels establish a foothold in Idaho, it could be a problem for more than just boaters.
“The argument can be made that the greatest threat to our endangered species is invasive species,” Sen. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs told the Times-News.
Four threatened fish species live in Bear Lake, which straddles the Utah-Idaho border in the southeastern corner of the state.
“Quaggas get to Bear Lake, these fish will be starved out basically, because the quagga mussels eat the nutrients in the water,” he said. “And that would put these fish in danger of being endangered.”
That means consequences not just for fishermen but for irrigators as well.
Then there’s the economic impact. Matt Morrison, chief executive officer of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region, said if the mussels get established in the state, they could be a $94 million a year burden. About half of that would be due to the impact on the state’s hydroelectric power system, another $24 million impact on boat maintenance and more than $4 million on the state’s drinking water systems.
The mussels are native to the Ukraine and were introduced into the U.S. by ships in the St. Lawrence Seaway, from there becoming a major problem in the Great Lakes. They have been popping up in some bodies of water throughout the United States in recent years. Most concerning for Idaho, they were found last year in the Canyon Ferry and Tiber reservoirs in Montana, prompting Gov. Steve Bullock to declare a natural resources emergency and the Legislature there to appropriate $11 million over the next two years to fight them. That’s not far from the Columbia Basin, the drainage area that includes the Snake River and covers almost all of the state of Idaho.
“We’re 50 miles from having these things flow into the Columbia,” Morrison said. “And once they flow into the Columbia, they’re unstoppable.”
Wednesday, the Idaho Legislature’s Senate Resources and Environment and House Environment, Energy and Technology committees met jointly to hear about the threat the mussels pose and what they can do, including going over what the Legislature could do this year and hearing a report from Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, who co-chairman of a group of lawmakers who studied the issue over the interim.
The budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved an emergency $710,000 appropriation on Monday to add three new boat inspection stations near the border to intercept boats coming from Montana.
Also, a bill was introduced earlier this month to create an Office of Invasive Species Policy within the state’s Office of Species Coordination, the intent being to coordinate control efforts across state agencies, at an estimated cost of about $143,000 a year. It is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee.
Lawmakers will have to figure out how to pay for ramped-up control efforts. The House Resources and Conservation Committee introduced a bill Thursday to raise the registration fee for out-of-state boaters from $22 to $30, which is expected to bring in another $100,000 to $150,000 a year to help fund the state’s border checkpoints, said the bill’s sponsor Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise.
“Large out-of-state boats represent the real risk to our waterways,” he said.
Gestrin said Wednesday the Legislature will have to commit some money from the general fund to fight invasive species, since the fee hike won’t cover the whole cost.
“If we get this, it’s going to be everybody’s problem,” he said.