Invasive Species Prevention in the Columbia River Basin

When invasive and non-native species become introduced into a location, the results can be devastating. From aquatic mussels to wild pigs, they can spread disease, feed on endangered species, compete for resources, overwhelm native species, reduce diversity, and often create cascading effects to the food web.

The Council’s Fish and Wildlife Program recognizes the impact of invasive species to the basin’s fish and wildlife and calls for coordinated efforts with federal, state, tribal, and regional partners to prevent, suppress, and eradicate their spread.

At its February meeting, regional state and tribal invasive species coordinators discussed some of the Northwest’s priority invasive species and the management efforts to address them.

Zebra and Quagga Mussels

For several years now, the Council has supported efforts to prevent the spread of zebra and quagga mussels into the waters of the Columbia Basin. While the basin is still the nation’s only great river system free of these mussels, the risks to fish and wildlife and costs to infrastructure warrants the region’s focused efforts to prevent their introduction.

Stephen Phillips, Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, briefed Council members on prevention, which he noted was critical because once mussels become established, they are very difficult and expensive to eradicate.

Prevention efforts include establishing watercraft inspection and decontamination stations; protocols and standards; training programs; enhanced communication through a regional data sharing system and a reporting hotline; water body monitoring; vulnerability assessments of hydropower facilities; and public outreach about regulations and inspection locations.

Watercraft inspection and decontamination stations have been established throughout the region. In 2014, Congress passed new authorization for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that included a provision giving the Corps legal authority to enter into cost-sharing agreements with the four Northwest states to establish and operate watercraft inspection and decontamination stations.

The Council worked closely with regional partners to advance this legislation and support its continued funding. The cost-share program is coordinated through the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and allows states to increase the number of watercraft inspection stations and their days and hours of operation. It has also supported ongoing monitoring and rapid response efforts.

So far, it’s proven to be an effective strategy. In 2021, said Phillips, over 200 boats with adult mussels were detected and decontaminated.

Council Chair Jeff Allen asked: “Are we really good or are we just lucky?”

Phillips allowed that it was a bit of both. “Our natural river system, with its ups and downs, helps give us some protection. But I’d also say we’ve done a good job; having those inspection stations in place was a wise move.”

Other Invasive Species

Blaine Parker, Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission; Nick Zurfluh, Idaho State Department of Agriculture; Liz Lodman, Montana Invasive Species Council; Rick Boatner, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife; and Justin Bush, Washington Invasive Species Council, also briefed the Council on other invasive species—from pond snails to crayfish–and efforts to address those risks (see above link).

One of those discussed, wild pigs, or feral swine, might be an unfamiliar species of threat to the Northwest layperson, but they are a force to be reckoned with. A 2019 story in the New York Times noted that:

“Feral pigs are widely considered to be the most destructive invasive species in the United States. They can do remarkable damage to the ecosystem, wrecking crops and hunting animals like birds and amphibians to near extinction.”

According to Lodman, they are a major threat to the region’s biodiversity by competing with wildlife for food, water, and space; preying on young wildlife; consuming large quantities of vegetation; and affecting water quality and riparian systems.

“They are nature’s rototillers,” said Lodman.

Because of this, monitoring and early detection and reporting is critical. Their public outreach campaign, “Squeal on Pigs,” gets extra points for best tagline in fish and wildlife.