Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program Success Story

Southwestern Crown of the Continent – Aquatic Invasive Species

Clearwater Resource Council volunteer Joann Wallenburn instructing two men and two women about aquatic invasive species.
Clearwater Resource Council volunteer Joann Wallenburn educates lake users about the threat of aquatic invasive species.

The Southwestern Crown Collaborative (SWCC) is tackling a lesser known threat to ecosystem health: aquatic invasive species. Aquatic invasive species are not native to an eco-system and can have devastating effects on native species, sometimes out-competing them for food and habitat. They can also change the aesthetics and character of a lake. Eurasian water milfoil, for example, grows so thick on shallow lake bottoms that it can make swimming nearly impossible. Zebra mussels often leave behind a blanket of razor-like shells along water edges.

The Seeley Lake and Swan Lake Ranger Districts are using Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration funds to leverage private and other agency funds to implement two critical tools for confronting the threat of aquatic invasive species. One is an aquatic invasive species check station at a critical crossroad, Clearwater Junction, operated by Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks where watercraft are inspected for aquatic invasive species. The station began operating in 2011 and is again in operation in 2012.

This check station is a critical link in preventing the introductions of harmful aquatic invasive species in the Southwestern Crown. Once they get established in a lake or other waterway, the costs to eliminate or reduce aquatic invasive species become much higher, and the impacts to fisheries and aquatic habitat have already begun.

Local resident Joann Wallenburn is on the front lines of aquatic invasive species education and prevention as a Clearwater Resource Council (CRC) volunteer. She retired from the University of Montana’s Flathead Lake Biological Station in 2010 and is now using Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration funds for the ongoing Clearwater Resource Council campaign to educate lake cabin owners and boaters about the simple steps they need to take to prevent aquatic invasive species.

“The aquatic invasive species threat was virtually unknown to the general public just a couple years ago,” Wallenburn said. “But today, everything is jelling. We’ve now held education and outreach at all of the lakeshore homeowners associations.” She noted that several homeowners have also volunteered to check for the presence of zebra mussels using PVC pipe. The pipe is attached to a rope and lowered into the lake off their docks. With a little training, volunteers are able to readily identify the initial stages of a zebra mussel on the plastic pipe. She also pointed out that other Clearwater Resource Council volunteers are involved in helping “spread the word, not the weed” and monitoring for aquatic invasive species. The teams of volunteers who regularly visit the lakes to test water quality were also trained to keep an eye out for aquatic invasive species in the lakes and at the boat launches.

Please direct any questions to Lauren Marshall (lemarshall@fs.fed.us).