How Aquatic Invasive Species Can Impact Montana Agriculture

How Aquatic Invasive Species Can Impact Montana Agriculture
6:12 PM, Aug 26, 2019
5:58 PM, Jun 18, 2021
How AIS Affects Montana Agriculture

‘Clean, drain and dry’ is the way to help stop the spread of invasive mussels.

For the last two years, Laura Nowlin’s job as coordinator for the Musselshell Watershed Coalition in central Montana has focused on preventing the spread of invasive mussels. To educate landowners and irrigators on the seriousness of the problem, she shows them a piece of pipe that’s absolutely covered in the aquatic invasive species, or AIS.

“Native mussels are the size of your hand, but invasive mussels are more like the size of a fingernail, so they attach to anything that's hard and clog it,” said Nowlin. “For agriculture, the biggest concern is that they will clog intake pipes for irrigation systems or pivots, which would make it hard for the water to flow through.”

The components of irrigation systems at the greatest risk of infestation include intake structures and screens, pumps, small-diameter piping and valves and areas with abundant organic matter and oxygen.

In addition, Nowlin explains that invasive mussels also mess with the water’s food chain. “They're eating all of the stuff at the very bottom of the food chain, so then the fish and the other things living in the water are being affected higher up in the food chain,” she explains.

The damage continues as mussels multiply by the thousands. “Beaches are just covered with them, so you can't walk on them, and the animals aren't living there anymore either,” said Nowlin. “Basically, once they're in your system, you can't get rid of them. You're just trying to minimize the impact that they're having.”

The impact is also financial as Nowlin explains that, based on treatment costs in Idaho, the treatment of Montana’s Musselshell River Basin, main stem and tributaries, can be as high as $1.3 million a year.

Clean, drain, dry

The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks is working feverishly to spread the message of ‘clean, drain, dry.’
“The best way to solve the invasive mussel problem is to make sure that anything being transported that has been in water -- a used pump, or pipe or parts from a state that has invasive mussels -- is cleaned, drained and dried because the mussels can't survive if it's dry,” said Nowlin.

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks urges boaters, anglers, paddlers, and seaplane pilots to
completely remove all mud, water, and vegetation before leaving the access area and inspect boats, trailers, and all gear, paying particular attention to crevices and hidden areas.

Remove all vegetation and mud by using a pressurized power sprayer and drain all water from watercraft and equipment. Dry your watercraft and fishing equipment thoroughly.

“Cleaned, drained and dried actually prevents the spread of all AIS,” said Nowlin.

To learn more and to help spread the word about the prevention of AIS, visit

AIS Bureau | Montana FWP

1420 East Sixth Avenue

Helena, MT 59620
Phone: (406) 444-2440

FWP Watercraft Inspection Stations

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