The National Park Service may have given up on fighting invasive mussels in Utah, the state’s top wildlife official says, but the state will keep trying to control the spread of the tiny creature with potentially large economic impacts.
And a state lawmaker wants to add a $10 surcharge to boat registrations to help fund the effort.
Greg Sheehan, director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR), told a legislative committee Wednesday about his dealings with federal officials at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area this spring.
“We did have some frustrating moments,” Sheehan told the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee. “They essentially kind of said, ‘We are done with quagga mussels.’ That ‘we are not really responsible for the state of Utah and we need to protect our park in other ways that we see fit.’ ”
Quagga mussels are minuscule and short-lived, but they reproduce quickly and when they die, their shells remain as an anchor point for new mussels. The invasive species can block water transportation systems, damage water vessels and ruin beaches.
The National Park Service had an aggressive boat decontamination and education program at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on Lake Powell until this spring, when established colonies were discovered in several areas of the lake.
Concerned about the possible impacts on the state’s vital water systems, Sheehan worked with the National Park Service and Utah’s congressional delegation to find $750,000 to get the quagga campaign reinstated at Lake Powell.
It is not as aggressive as the state would like it to be, Sheehan said, but the DWR will continue to work with Glen Canyon officials to keep the efforts going.
Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, announced he will introduce a bill in the 2015 session to help fund the aquatic invasive species program and educate boat owners at the same time.
“We have 70,000 registered boats. The idea is we put a $10 surcharge [on the registration fee] for mussels,” Jenkins said. “We don’t want to just raise the fee and no one knows what it is for. People will know it is for the mussel program. Education is as important as everything else.”
Lake Powell is the only water in Utah confirmed to hold invasive mussels, and state officials say it is important to educate boaters about decontamination to prevent any spread. Lake Powell is a popular destination, and boaters often travel to other Utah waters within days of visiting the quagga-infested reservoir.
State efforts to help curtail the spread of invasive mussels have focused on Bear Lake — which straddles the Utah/Idaho border — in recent months.
The main challenge at Bear Lake is that boaters can launch their craft on the beach without the need to visit a marina or boat ramp. That removes the opportunity for officials to ask where a boat has been, check whether it has been decontaminated and raise awareness of the issue.