Montanans’ Awareness of Invasive Aquatic Species Improving

MISSOULA – Nearly three-fourths of all Montanans participate in outdoor water recreation activities, and this year 87 percent of those residents are aware of the invasive aquatic mussel issue in Montana.

Awareness of invasive mussels by Montanans in 2017 and 2018. (UM Graphic)

The numbers indicate an overall increase of 20 percent from a similar 2017 awareness study, according to figures released by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research at the University of Montana.

Larvae of aquatic invasive mussels were found in Tiber and Canyon Ferry reservoirs in November 2016, with potential devastating effects on all waterways in the state. As a result Tiber Reservoir and other western lakes and reservoirs closed for a number of months. The 2017 Legislature allocated more dollars for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to contain the mussel invasion, including more funding for education and boat check stations.

Results of the ITRR study show that every age group in the state became more aware of the mussel issue in the past year. The 46- to 55-year-old age group showed the largest increase with 22 percent more residents of this age aware of mussels, followed by the youngest age group of 18- to 25-year-olds, whose awareness went up 20 percent.

“These results, however encouraging, still point to the fact that 12 percent of Montanans who participate in water recreation are still unaware of the invasive mussels,” said Norma Nickerson, director of the ITRR.

As in 2017, the 2018 results show that the least aware age group is the 18- to 25-year-olds, with only a 64 percent awareness level.

“Montana needs to provide continued support for FWP’s education campaigns,” Nickerson said.

The 2018 study also found that 91 percent of Montanans who participate in water activities are aware of boat inspection stations, but only 71 percent were aware that all types of watercraft – including kayaks and paddle boards – need to be inspected. Montana FWP now has 35 mandatory boat check stations around the state.

The ITRR study surveyed 5,551 Montanans ages 18 and older who were intercepted at gas stations and rest areas throughout the state earlier this year.

More information on the study is available online.