Wednesday, 25 January 2012 12:51
Not spreading mussels and detecting them early are keys to success
Quagga and zebra mussels have devastated fishing waters, plugged water delivery systems and ruined boats all across the nation.
This photo was taken at Lake Mead in 2008. This is something wildlife officials don't want to see in Utah.
Photo by Natalie Muth
But those things haven't happened in Utah. How come?
In 2007, the Utah Legislature, the Division of Wildlife Resources and several statewide partners launched a massive effort to keep mussels from doing the same things in Utah.
Larry Dalton, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the DWR, says so far the effort has been successful.
Since 2007, evidence that quagga or zebra mussels might be in Utah has been found in eight waters. However, as of January 2012, only one of those waters is still classified as possibly having mussels in it:
Keys to success
So why haven't mussels gained a foothold in Utah?
Dalton credits the statewide effort that started in 2007.
"That effort has allowed us to decontaminate boats, including boats that have mussels attached to their hulls," he says.
He says the effort has also allowed biologists to detect the presence of mussels early in a body of water. "If we find mussels quick enough," he says, "we can take measures that will lessen the chance that more mussels are introduced to the water.
"If we can prevent additional mussels from being introduced to the water, the mussel population that's already in the water may die off."
Despite the good news, Dalton says the fight continues. "We can't afford to let our guard down," he says. "If we let our guard down, the results to the state of Utah could be catastrophic."
Efforts since 2007
When invasive mussels were discovered in neighboring states in 2007, Utah's natural resource managers immediately bolstered their resources to fight back.
The National Park Service at Lake Powell and the DWR, aided by the Utah Legislature and many statewide partners, put a small army of boat inspectors on the ground at boat ramps across Utah.
(Boaters in Utah can't launch their boats unless the boats have been properly decontaminated to kill any mussels that might have attached themselves to the boat.)
Laws were also changed to make it easier for DWR personnel to check boats. And water sampling to monitor for the presence of mussels began in waters across the state.
Those efforts, coupled with a significant outreach program that informed boaters about the risks invasive mussels pose to Utah, represent the core of the fight.
"Boaters listened," Dalton says. "They joined the effort to protect Utah's complicated water delivery structure, the state's world-class, water-based outdoor recreation areas and the state's economically valuable sport fisheries."
Dalton says his surveys show that more than 95 percent of the state's boaters understand the risks quagga and zebra mussels pose to the state. "That explains why more than 80 percent of the boaters say they always decontaminate their boats and other wet equipment after every use," he says.
"Certainly, Utah's water managers understand the risk, too, since they're helping with the fight."
Even though news from the mussel front is good, Dalton says Utah cannot give up the fight. "Utah cannot afford a widespread infestation of quagga or zebra mussels," he says. "Not today. Not ever."
Why the concern?
The following are reasons why Utahns should be concerned about quagga and zebra mussels:
Beavers in Utah
Building guzzlers in Utah's Newfoundland Mountains
Gila monsters — Creatures of legends and misconceptions