State starts early to stop invasive species from hitchhiking into Oregon

State starts early to stop invasive species from hitchhiking into Oregon
Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Marine Board's website.

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — Boat inspections to keep invasive mussels and other exotic species from choking Oregon's waterways disinfected 51 boats last year, and the inspectors wonder how many they might have missed. So, this year at one checkpoint, the busiest last year, they're starting work three months early.

Inspections began last week at the checkpoint along Interstate 5 at Ashland, looking at boat hulls and bilges for non-native species hitchhiking from California into Oregon, The Medford Mail Tribune reports.

In 2009, the Legislature created $5 boat permits to pay for a campaign to keep such invaders as zebra and quagga mussels from entering Oregon on boats coming from infected waterways such as Arizona's Lake Mead and wreaking environmental havoc such as they've caused in other parts of the country such as the Great Lakes.

Boats found with invasive species are disinfected.

Inspections began last year in May, start of the summer boating season.

"We're trying to find out if we're missing some, especially the commercially hauled boats," says Rick Boatner, who oversees the inspection program for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "They're very high-risk because they sit in the water longer."

Stations on Highway 97 near Klamath Falls, Highway 395 south of Lakeview, and Interstate 84 near Ontario are scheduled to open May 13.

The state plans two further expansions of the inspections.

The Ashland station now runs eight hours a day, five days a week, but the department plans to hire a second crew in July to run the operation daily, Boatner said.

The agency also plans to open an inspection station in July in Gold Beach to target boats heading into Oregon along Highway 101, he said.

Inspection stations typically include a two-person crew and a boat-cleaning machine.

Last year, the program inspected 4,526 vessels.

Of those, 18 had zebra or quagga mussels. Among the 33 others disinfected were boats containing Eurasian watermilfoil, a non-native plant that already has infected some lakes, growing in such large and deep mats that it restricts boating and swimming.

Information from: Mail Tribune

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.