"Clean. Drain. Dry." "Don't move a mussel." 2022 Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) awareness and inspections have sprung in western Montana.

The Char-Koosta News, the official news publication of the Flathead Indian Reservation, tells us that once again, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes will be operating a pair of aquatic invasive species (AIS) inspection stations in Ravalli and Thompson Falls, in partnership with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The Ravalli station has already opened for the season, with the Thompson Falls station to follow suit next month. And with the phenomenal number of watercraft that were inspected last year, it's no surprise that they are being so proactive to protect their precious waters.

Both of these inspection stations are the last western and southern lines of defense against zebra and quagga mussels nearest to Flathead Lake. The Ravalli and Clearwater (Highway 200/Highway 83 Junction) inspection stations are the busiest stations that are closest to Flathead Lake.

The Char-Koosta News also informs us that "the Flathead River Basin is part of the Columbia River Basin, the last river basin in the contiguous United States not infested with the zebra and quagga mussels. And the damage of an infestation to an ecosystem and related economy would be devastating."

So, how many inspections in 2021 are we talking about? And don't think for a minute there will be fewer in 2022.

And where do the boats all come from?

During 2021, Montana inspection stations conducted approximately 123,000 inspections and intercepted 61 mussel-fouled boats, which was a record number for the state. Montana FWP wardens  who provided support at inspection stations to prevent drive-bys, issued 137 citations and 182 written warnings.

Of Montana's 30-plus inspection stations, the Ravalli inspection station alone conducted 16,674 inspections, which included 3,780 high risk watercraft that were last launched in states with known zebra and/or quagga mussel infestations. The Ravalli watercraft inspectors found four mussel-fouled watercraft.

The Thompson Falls inspection station conducted 4,266 inspections, of which included 319 high risk watercraft. No mussel-fouled boats were found.

One of the main reasons for early March inspection station openings is to check snowbird boat traffic returning from mussel positive areas in other states.

The Ravalli inspection station opened on March 12. It is currently open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., but will transition to 24/7 operation in May.

The Anaconda inspection station opened on March 11. The Dillon station opened March 12. And the remainder of the FWP inspection stations are slated to open in April and May and will close in September and October.

The Thompson Falls inspection station will open April 23, 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

All watercraft (boats, rafts, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, etc.) must be inspected prior to launching.