Lisa Scott, Coordinator of the Okanagan and Similkameen Invasive Species Society, addressed the regional board about a new threat to the region’s lakes at the regular board meeting on February 21.
Scott told the board that her society – formerly spreading the word about invasive plants – was recently rebranded to include invasive water species.
Although her presentation was mostly about potential marine threats to the local environment, she was quick to point out that regional district funding for her society would continue to be directed towards invasive plant species.
Using last summer’s snakehead fish incident in Burnaby to illustrate the increasing awareness of the issue, Scott noted the potential for huge costs should the Okanagan be invaded by an invasive aquatic species.
Last year, Schuswap Lake dodged a bullet when a boat from Arizona was discovered with zebra mussels attached to it.
“They believe the mussels were all dead,” she said, “and everyone is hopeful nothing alive got into the lake.”
Zebra and Quagga mussels, imported to the Great Lakes in the ballast of European ships, have spread throughout eastern North America. They have also been found in a few western states. They produce very sharp shells, eat the food of native species, and collect around man made items like water intakes, eventually plugging them up. Scott noted that the region’s lakes have all the right conditions for survival – leaning towards high alkalinity and therefore promoting shell growth – and not a lot is being done in B.C. at present to mitigate their arrival in our waters.
Scott detailed the State of Idaho’s efforts to keep the species out of their state. Idaho has a mandatory inspection of all boats in a self funded, $875,000 program. In 2012, 57 mussel fouled boats were discovered, five of which were ultimately destined for B.C., and three for Alberta. The program also conducted a survey that made a startling discovery: boaters launching into an Idahoan lake came from just about every state of the union.
“People travel vast distances with their boats,” Scott said.
So far, Okanagan- Similkameen efforts have involved the hiring of a “aquatic student” for 13 weeks at $5,000 under contract with the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB). A hired student worked in provincial campgrounds from Osoyoos to Vernon attempting to educate the public in a “clean, drain, dry” program to boaters.
Provincially, recent legislative changes in B.C. has resulted in the prohibition of high risk species, with fines up to $250,000 for introducing an invasive species and $100,000 fines for not cleaning boats prior to placing them in local lakes. Scott noted that the legislation was similar to laws in effect in neighbouring states and Alberta.
West Bench Director Brydon questioned why the OBWB, who had a milfoil program in place, wouldn’t be taking on the task of invasive species prevention, while Area “C” Director Allan Patton noted that, based on experience with land based invasive species, it was “hopeless” to expect that it could be stopped.
“We’re going to need a biological species to fight it in the long run,” he said.
Area “D” Director Tom Siddon expressed the need to raise the level of public awareness, reasoning that customs inspectors could help identify contaminated watercraft. He wondered if the country’s winter conditions offered a mitigating factor, noting at the same time the amount of invasive aquatic species in the eastern part of the country, which had colder winter than the regional district.
Osoyoos Director Stu Wells reiterated the potential for huge costs in controlling and maintaining waterways should these species take hold. He advocated an invasive species permit for all boaters, as well as a resolution to be brought forward to the Southern Interior Local Government Association (SILGA) convention.
“Idaho’s got it right,” commented Penticton Director Gary Litke in conclusion, “why do we need to invent the wheel? There’s a lot of urgency to this.”