Pacific Northwest
Members of Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks' aquatic invasive species dive team prepare to work at Beaver Lake, near Whitefish, this summer. The team was formed last year to provide a quicker response to AIS issues, as well as to assist with fisheries projects. via Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks

MT - Dive Team Created to Fight Aquatic Invasive Species

Aquatic invasive species are like the COVID-19 of streams and lakes. It takes only one watercraft to become a super spreader, introducing an invader like Eurasian watermilfoil or zebra mussels to a waterway.

When an invader is detected, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks now has an “A Team” it can call. Last year the group created a six-member dive team pulling volunteers from across its Aquatic Invasive Species staff.

Prior to that, the agency used the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s divers for mussel-type events, but it can take time for them to assemble and drive to Montana when time is of the essence.

“We thought it would be nice to have a quick response dive team, not only for mussel detection,” said Stacy Schmidt, leader of the crew.

“There’s a lot of interest in using the dive team for population delineation of other species, control work for mussels and whatever fishery needs might come up, such as fish counts,” she added. “It just seemed like it might be of great value for all of fisheries.”

FWP’s aquatic invasive species program is pretty broad, said Liz Lodman, AIS information officer. In addition to watercraft inspections, the group does education and outreach, AIS detection and prevention, water sampling and laboratory analysis. With the dive team’s help, the staff is also working on eradication.

Beaver Lake near Whitefish has been the subject of a dive team project with partners to eliminate invasive Eurasian watermilfoil. By anchoring mats to the bottom of the lake, the crew is attempting to choke out the weed before it spreads.

“We’re trying to nip it in the bud,” Lodman said.

“Every year we have to go in and check the mats,” she added, to make sure they are still secured and covering the target area. “It’s a fairly low-cost way of dealing with an invasion like this.”

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