Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in the western U.S., is known for its crystal-clear waters. Experts are fighting to keep it invasive-species-free.

Salish and Kootenai Help Keep Invasive Zebra Mussel Out of Flathead Lake


Flathead Lake in Montana, which lies partly on the Flathead Indian Reservation of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, has a reputation for being the cleanest, and clearest, in the nation.

Environmental experts are striving to keep it that way as invasive species get closer and closer. While two non-native plants are already established, an animal encroachment of the zebra mussel, for instance, would be far worse.

Early next week, on Tuesday July 15, the Flathead Lakers’ annual meeting will address how best to keep invasive species from gaining a hold in the lake. They’re especially on the lookout for zebra mussels, among the most damaging, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department Bureau Chief Eileen Ryce told the television station 8KPAX. Earlier this month the department sent a team to Missoula to thoroughly clean a 25-foot aluminum boat that had come in from Ohio, after the vessel had been flagged for possible issues at a checkpoint in Hardin, KPAX reported. So far the lake is clear of them, but vigilance must be constant. 

"It is very important we address the zebra mussels," Ryce told the TV station, adding that the mollusks can damage fish, water, beaches and water systems.

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“The zebra mussel is one of the most economically damaging aquatic organisms to invade the United States,” says Flathead Lakers, a 1,500-member grassroots conservation group, on its website. “Its destructive power lies in its sheer numbers and its ability to attach itself to solid objects like water intake pipes, propellers, boat hulls, dock pilings, submerged rocks and even other aquatic animals. Colonies of zebra mussels clog filters, pipes, and pumps, and threaten native invertebrates, fish and wildlife. Zebra mussels consume food other species need and can completely change the ecology of infested waters. They can also ruin boat engines by growing in the cooling system intakes and blocking water flow, and can jam steering equipment.”

Other invasive species include mysis shrimp, quagga mussels, Eurasian watermilfoil, New Zealand mud snails and whirling disease, reported the Char-Koosta News, the newsletter of the Salish and Kootenai. 

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