With fresh snow on the ground again Tuesday, it may seem like boating season is an eon away.

But Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is already gearing up to start its annual boat inspection program, with the first stations about to open.

FWP and other agencies such as the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have been operating extensive boat inspection programs for more than a decade, hoping to head off a host of invasive species from entering Montana lakes, rivers, and streams.

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So far, our vigilance has paid off

Elsewhere in the U.S. quagga and zebra mussels have caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to not only boats, but other water facilities, like dams, docks, irrigation, and water systems. In fact, the Pacific Northwest and specifically the extensive Columbia Basin system, are the only parts of the country that haven't been infested.

Although evidence of mussels was found in a Central Montana reservoir several years ago, so far the watercraft inspections are doing the trick.

However, there have been close calls

FWP says last year alone inspectors apprehended 53 mussel-fouled boats and more than 600 boats were carrying aquatic weeds. Crews inspected more than 119,000 vessels in 2022.

The concern is that the infestation is getting closer to Montana

The state says zebra mussels were found last year in a reservoir near Rapid City, South Dakota, just 70 miles away from the Montana border.

Inspections will start this month

Inspection stations near Dillon, Ravalli north of Missoula, and Anaconda will begin operation this coming weekend. FWP begins early in an effort to stop "snowbird" boaters returning from heavily infested waters in the Southwest, like Lake Havasu, Lake Mead, and Lake Powell.

Inspections have also started at the FWP office in Kalispell to accommodate boaters starting to fish in the annual Mack Days tournament.

Montana FWP photo
Montana FWP photo

FWP reminds every to follow these rules:

  • All watercraft coming into Montana from out of state must be inspected prior to launching.
  • All watercraft traveling west across the Continental Divide into the Columbia River Basin must be inspected prior to launching.
  • Anyone transporting watercraft must stop at all open watercraft inspection stations they encounter.
  • And all boaters are reminded to always clean drains and dry their boat, live wells, anchors, boots, and gear when leaving the water.

READ MORE: FWP page on boat inspections

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