Watercraft inspection stations along Idaho and Oregon highways likely will be busier than ever this year.
Crews at the stations target invasive species such as non-native weeds and mussels that damage irrigation works, power generation equipment and other water system infrastructure while degrading water quality and fish and wildlife habitat.
Inspectors are especially concerned about keeping quagga and zebra mussels — documented in some neighboring states — out of the Northwest. All watercraft, motorized and non-motorized, are inspected.
Through mid-May, Idaho stations had found 22 mussel-fouled craft compared to 31 in all of 2017. Lloyd Knight, Idaho State Department of Agriculture plant industries division administrator, said he expects the number of inspections to increase in 2018 from last year’s 93,083 because the network of stations added capacity.
Idaho has 20 stations plus three roving crews. The state in the last two years added three stations, including one that is open 24 hours, and extended the operating hours at three others. Knight said the 2017 data does not include two stations open this year: North Fork, north of Salmon on U.S. 93, and on U.S. 12 near Kooskia.
High-use stations include U.S. 93 in Idaho north of Jackpot, Nev.; Malad on Interstate 15 and Cedars on I-90 east of Coeur d’Alene, he said.
“We want to make sure all (watercraft) are clean, drained and dry even if they are headed through Idaho to another state or province,” Knight said.
Idaho inspectors offer voluntary hot washes but note any refusals. A watercraft can be held up, and decontamination required, in cases where viable live mussels are found but a wash is refused, he said.
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Invasive Species Coordinator Rick Boatner said state inspections found two mussel-transporting boats on the May 11-13 weekend, bringing the year-to-date total to six. Northwest waters currently do not have quagga or zebra mussels, he said.
In addition to damaging and blocking irrigation facilities, they’re damaging to the environment partly because they consume food that smaller fish and invertebrates need to survive, he said.
As of May 15, the station at Central Point near Ashland had inspected 1,665 craft. Other totals included 1,777 at Ontario, 153 at the recently opened Klamath Falls station, 197 at Gold Beach-Brookings and 538 at Umatilla. Burns is set to open in early June. The Ontario and Ashland stations are open year-round.
Oregon intercepted 51 boats through mid-May with invasive aquatic plants, mostly Eurasian Watermilfoil, Boatner said.
Oregon in 2017 inspected 21,035 watercraft, intercepting 17 with quagga or zebra mussels, and 283 with other aquatic species such as Eurasian Watermilfoil and brown mussels.
Watercraft with quagga or zebra mussels last year came through Oregon check stations from Lake Powell, Lake Mead, Lake Havasu, Lake Erie, Lake Michigan, Lake Ontario and the Fox River in Illinois.