For anyone who enjoys boating on the state’s lakes, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Aquatic Invasive Species checkpoints have become part of the safety routine.

I spoke to Russ Hartzell on Thursday. He’s the Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Specialist with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; in charge of making sure that those nasty invasive mussels don’t infect Montana’s precious lakes, and the inspections start on Saturday, March 9, 2024.

Aquatic Invasive Species Checkpoints Open this Saturday in Montana

“We're opening three watercraft inspection stations on Saturday; one near Dillon, one near Anaconda, and one up protecting Flathead Lake there north in Missoula at Ravalli," Hartzell began. "Those are primarily meant to intercept any ‘snowbird traffic’ that might be coming from mussel-fouled high-risk water bodies down in the southwest. We want to get them inspected on their way home, to make sure if they do have any aquatic invasive species like zebra or quagga mussels on their boats, so we get them taken care of.”

Hartzell knows better than most just how dangerous and destructive these invasive mussels can be to Montana’s lakes.

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“They're a small critter with a huge impact,” he said. “They have big ecological impacts or filter feeders that can crash out the nutrient base in any water bodies that they're introduced to. But in addition to that, because they have these things called byssal threads that allow them to attach to boats and pipes and infrastructure, they have big economic impacts as well and could decrease property values, as well as increase the cost of our utilities if they make their way into any dams and hydroelectric infrastructure.”

Hartzell said the boat inspections are a game of risk and reward.

Montana Fines for Failure to Stop for a Boat Inspection

“The name of our game is always risk, and that's based on where the watercraft has been, how long it's been on the water,” he said. “For higher-risk boats, it can take longer (for the inspection) just because it's a more thorough process. Depending on what's found during the course of the inspection, that's where we might have to conduct a decontamination just using hot water, but we really do try to get people through as efficiently as possible.”

Failure to stop at a check station when you have a vessel or equipment with you is a crime in Montana. Spotters are on the highway looking for vehicles that don't stop at check stations. Fines can be up to $975 from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

LOOK: Here are the best lake towns to live in

Many of the included towns jump out at the casual observer as popular summer-rental spots--the Ozarks' Branson, Missouri, or Arizona's Lake Havasu--it might surprise you to dive deeper into some quality-of-life offerings beyond the beach and vacation homes. You'll likely pick up some knowledge from a wide range of Americana: one of the last remaining 1950s-style drive-ins in the Midwest; a Florida town that started as a Civil War veteran retirement area; an island boasting some of the country's top public schools and wealth-earners right in the middle of a lake between Seattle and Bellevue; and even a California town containing much more than Johnny Cash's prison blues.

Gallery Credit: Peter Richman


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