County works to reduce aquatic invasive species

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Brenda Fryxell of Plains examines a boat and trailer during routine inspections outside Thompson Falls near the Noxon Reservoir. Efforts are underway to reduce invasive species in local waters.

A task force gathered at the Montana State Offices in Thompson Falls on Wednesday to discuss efforts to reduce the population of the invasive species known as Eurasian Water Milfoil in Sanders County waters. Eurasian Water Milfoil was introduced in North America in the 1940s and is largely viewed as a noxious, undesirable weed.

Comprised of members from the Forest Service, Avista Corporation, Sanders County Weed Control and others, the task force met to discuss funding for reduction efforts as well as inspections and public education proposals.

The task force was created to deal with the spread of a plant that has taken root in many bodies of water in Sanders County over the past few decades. Eurasian Water Milfoil is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa but has spread to North and South America.

EWM as it is known, is generally regarded as an invasive species that can quickly spread, crowding out native species. The plant can grow into vast mats that pose a hazard to recreational activities and can develop into infestations that are extremely difficult to remove.

EWM infestations can grow from a single fragment of a single plant according to Jeff Hjelt, Fisheries Technician at FWP. Hjelt along with Brenda Fryxell manned a mandatory inspection site over the weekend at the Thompson Falls Rural Fire Department.

The inspection sites are part of the effort to educate the public about EWM as well as search boats and trailers for evidence of possible contamination. As boats stopped for inspection, Fryxell carefully checked around outboard motors, the hull and interior of the vessels while Hjelt spoke with boat owners about EWM contamination.

Hjelt said that as of 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning, seven boats had been inspected. Of those seven, two contained evidence of the presence of an invasive species. Hjelt said educating the public about how to avoid spreading these types of plants was an important part of the inspection process.

“We are trying to educate people about cleaning their boats so they don’t transport these plants from one reservoir to another because they can spread just from a small fragment,” said Hjelt. “A piece as small as a few centimeters can spread this plant.”

The Eurasian Water Milfoil Task Force was established in 2007 after EWM was discovered in the Noxon Reservoir and the Cabinet Gorge Reservoir both in Sanders County. It was the first confirmed case of infestation in the state of Montana. The task force was formed to develop and administer techniques to control and prevent further spread of EWM.

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