Courtesy of Jim Rice
BOISE — The head of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture has mixed feelings for a group of bills aiming to help the state better respond to the spreading threat of invasive aquatic mussels.
ISDA Director Celia Gould credited state appropriations leaders for “thoughtful” bills that would significantly step up funding for check stations that prevent out-of-state boats from bringing invasive mussels into the state.
But Gould also voiced strong concerns about HB 274, which would create a new invasive species coordinator position within the Governor’s Office and broaden the definition of invasive species to also include noxious weeds. Gould believes the bill would usurp power from county weed superintendents and create a needless new layer of bureaucracy that could come into conflict with her own staff. She said ISDA already performs the functions of the proposed coordinator, who would be tasked with collaborating with surrounding states to prevent the spread of invasive species.
“I recognize everyone has the best of intentions, but I’m fearful the legislation as presented has unintended consequences that would outweigh the good it would do,” Gould said, adding she also has concerns about related bills SB 1068 and HB 256.
A check station on U.S. Highway 93 near Twin Falls detected the season’s first boat harboring live mussels on March 20. The boat, now being held for decontamination, had been in Lake Havasu, located on the Nevada and Arizona border, and was bound for Alberta, Canada. Two other boats harboring dead mussels were also detected this season, according to ISDA.
Last summer, 19 boats harboring mussels, including one boat with viable mussels, were detected from 90,000 inspections. Water bodies in Utah and Nevada are known to be infested with mussels — which are tough to eradicate and clog irrigation infrastructure — and infestations were recently discovered in Montana reservoirs.
Prior to the 2016 season, the invasive species program operated on a $1.4 million annual appropriation from state invasive species boating stickers. The Legislature appropriated an additional $1 million to expand the program through last fall, and SB 1112 — which would award $1 million through the end of Fiscal Year 2017 to fund three new stations near the Montana border, expand hours of all 18 state check stations and staff them with police — awaits Gov. Butch Otter’s signature.
The Legislature has appropriated $4.3 million to continue offering the expanded program for the fiscal year beginning July 1 — with $3.1 million coming from the General Fund and $1.2 million coming from sticker revenue. Furthermore, HB 211 would generate about $100,000 in annual revenue through a $7 increase on non-resident boating stickers.
Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee Chairman Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said his committee members unanimously supported increased funding for invasive species stations after hearing an ISDA presentation last year.
“We were essentially playing roulette with boats coming in and not being inspected,” Rice said. “Stations were not open enough hours.”
Clair Bosen, president of Twin Lakes Canal Co. in Franklin County, Idaho, is dismayed that there appears to be no plan to allocate dollars protecting two of his company’s reservoirs — Twin Lakes and Glendale.
“(Mussels) just make it so you can’t run anything through pipes or head gates. They just plug them up,” Bosen said, adding his company would likely have to drain its reservoirs for two years if they were to become infested. “This year, without some funding, we are not going to be able to open those reservoirs (to boating.)”
Last year, the state, Franklin County and Bosen’s irrigators covered costs of reservoir-specific inspection stations, but Gould said she’s hesitant to “choose winners and losers” at private reservoirs.