Roughly one week ago, Flathead Lake nearly froze over completely.
Yet spring is nigh. And the year’s first watercraft inspection stations will launch regional check-ups this week. The inspections are intended to help prevent the spread of destructive aquatic invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks describes these water inspection stations as the state’s “first line of defense” against infestation by these and other invasive species.
Starting Wednesday, Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Region 1 office in Kalispell will begin offering watercraft inspections seven days a week. The station’s hours will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
On Friday, March 15, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes plan to open the Ravalli watercraft inspection station on Montana 200.
The Blackfeet Nation expects to open a station in Browning later this month.
Boat owners should ensure their watercraft and trailers are clean, drained and dry before transport and owners need to be aware of Montana’s inspection rules:
• All watercraft entering Montana from out of state must be inspected prior to launching.
• All watercraft traveling west across the Continental Divide into the Columbia River Basin must be inspected before launching.
• All watercraft launching anywhere within the Flathead Basin that were last launched on waters outside of the basin must be inspected.
• Anyone transporting watercraft must stop at all open watercraft inspection stations they encounter.
Snowbirds returning to Montana with a watercraft must seek an inspection.
Watercraft that have been used in mussel-infested waters in other states are of major concern.
Boat owners returning to Montana must have their vessels examined at a Montana watercraft inspection station, even if the watercraft was checked in another state.
To accommodate these rules, inspection stations are set up across Montana during the boating season. Additional inspection stations will open in April and May as the weather warms and boat traffic increases.
Watercraft can also be inspected at any Fish Wildlife and Parks area or regional office. For a full list and map, along with other information, go to cleandraindrymt.com or call 406-444-2440.