Snowbirds’ boats targeted at borders to prevent invasive species from reaching Alberta waterways

Published on Monday, 17 November 2014

Government thinking of mandatory boat stops for next year

bowden billboard thumbnailsThe Alberta government is now targetting boats owned by snowbirds as they come across the border. This new initiative, preventing dangerous aquatic invasive species such as zebra mussels from invading our water, is already gearing up for spring of 2015.

This provincial program, dubbed Clean, Drain and Dry, originated from Idaho was put into effect by initiating a media campaign to spread awareness, along with boat inspection stations in certain areas of the province.

The Calgary Journal in May did an exploration of aquatic invasive species and the threats they possess, as well as a look at Alberta’s efforts to prevent the spread. While one of the main species Alberta is threatened by is zebra and quagga mussels, some other species Alberta government has been keeping an eye on are Eurasian watermilfoil, spiny waterflea, and hydrilla among others.

Kate Wilson, Alberta’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program Coordinator, talks about the program and changes for the future.

*some answers have been edited for length and clarity

So why did you choose to adopt the Clean, Drain, Dry program?

The reason we chose this program was because it’s positive, and it tells people what to do in the message. We’ve seen titles in some states with aggressive slogans like, “Don’t Move a Mussel,” and that doesn’t really help people know what to do. One difference is in Alberta, our ads look a little different from others just to help distinguish that it’s new here.

Is this program mainly targeted to be educational?

While I would say it is largely an educational program, we’re more seeking for a behavioural change. The goal is to hope people will start doing this naturally as they travel around with their boats.

Boats and trailers are the most likely vector (source) for many harmful and high profile species. There are other potential sources as well, such as firefighting equipment, pump trucks used in industry, water-based construction equipment, float planes, etc. We have made headway on the firefighting equipment – our crews now use steam trucks to clean equipment such as air tankers when they have left the province.hinton2Kate Wilson, Alberta’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program Coordinator, spoke with the Calgary Journal regarding the dangers invasive species present, and ways to prevent them. 

Photo courtesy of Kate Wilson

How over the summer did you try to push this initiative? 

We implemented Clean, Drain and Dry over a variety of mediums. We placed ads on billboards on the highway, a few electronic ads on billboards in the cities. There were a lot of signs posted at boat launchers, and we had a booth at several boat shows. We also got Michael Short to do a television ad that aired on Sports Network. It aired on four provinces, so we might have overshot that one a little (laughs).

The goal is to have the majority of boat owners and anglers aware of the issue and the specific actions they can take to prevent the spread of all AIS. With the boat inspections out on the highway all summer, it was important to make sure we had a campaign explaining the issue and the solution!

Were there any bodies of water you guys were stationed at, or did you spend more time near the borders?

We had boat inspection stations focusing mainly on highways, trying to see if there were people with boats traveling back and forth. Because we’re more worried about species getting into the province, we stuck to areas close to borders, like Lethbridge and Lloydminster. We didn’t go too far on any back roads, we stuck mainly to existing commercial vehicle roads.

How many people did you guys inspect over the course of the summer?

We stopped about 3,700 people over the summer. Of those we intercepted two cases of aquatic invasive species on boats. That makes for 10 interceptions over the past two years.

When inspecting a boat and you guys do find an invasive species, what is the protocol that follows?

It depends on the situation. All boats that come in dirty or have standing water or plants/critters attached must be clean before they leave. We have equipment on site to decontaminate boats – hot water- high pressure wash units with attachments for different kinds of boats (e.g. inboard, outboard, sailboats, ballast tanks, jet skis, etc.). Most often we have boaters that are compliant with the process, as no one wants to be responsible for an introduction of invasive species! Especially mussels given the tremendous economic and environmental impacts (we estimate an infestation could cost Alberta over $75 million annually). If we have a boater who is not compliant but has come from a high risk area, our Fishery Officers have authority to hold the boat for as long as it takes to clean it, and depending on the situation, ensure that it is completely dry before it is released. Mussels can live up to 30 days out of the water.

So what happens after the summer month’s end?

Well after peak season, which usually ends after Labour Day, we wind down the patrols around the province. There is a focus on what to improve for next year, but we continue to patrol around the borders because of ‘snow birders.’

Often people who drive down to spend the winter months in warmer places down in the states will take their own boats down with them, or buy used boats there and then bring them back here. These are usually the most at-risk boats for invasive species, so we have to catch them as they come back across the border.

What are some of the changes you’d like to make for 2015?

We’d like a bit more authority for boat stops. Currently it’s a voluntary inspection for us to check boats on the highway, but we’d like to make it mandatory. The states are good with mandatory inspections, and we’d like to emulate that.

We’re also hoping to expand our presence throughout the province, try to cover more vectors besides boats. We also have another campaign that we’re starting called ‘Don’t Let it Loose,’ which will focus on the exotic fish trade coming in and out of the province.

For more information on aquatic invasive species and Clean, Drain and Dry, click here.

 

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