When government intervention is a good thing

May 12, 2019

Trust me. As a Midwesterner growing up near the Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi River, you would rather endure boat inspections for Quagga Mussels than what happens if you don’t.

It still may be a bit chilly to go boating, but very soon, Idahoans will be hitching up their boats and heading for Western waters. They will encounter Idaho border check-points where inspectors will be on the lookout for Quagga Mussels in bilge water.

One of the greatest things about living in Idaho is its breathtaking natural beauty. Whether you hike, fish, hunt, or boat, Idaho is the outdoor Gem of the West. As an Idahoan, I want to do whatever it takes to maintain the natural beauty and ecological balance of our water treasures like the Snake and Salmon Rivers, Redfish Lake, and Hells Canyon.

A lot of ink gets spilled every year — and justifiably so — about the potential threats to Idaho’s public lands. Most of these threats are political and will continue to be so. However, the greatest immediate threat to our beloved public waterways comes from Russia and Eastern Europe, is less than the size of a dime, and multiplies rapidly by the hundreds of thousands. This dangerous foreign invader is the Quagga Mussel.

If you’ve never heard of the Quagga Mussel, now is a good time to learn about it — especially if you have a boat. They look like mini-clam shells and, individually, they don’t seem particularly threatening. However, they multiply like gangbusters and can literally coat the bottom of lakes and rivers.

The Quagga Mussel originates in Russian and Ukrainian waterways and came to the United States in the ballast of freighters. These invaders first took hold in the Great Lakes and steadily made their way West. I remember so clearly when the first alarms about Quagga Mussels sounded in Wisconsin. Today, underwater cameras show the bottom of Lake Michigan coated with these pests, and they have negatively impacted the fishing industry on the lake forever. In the West, Lake Mead in Nevada and Lakes Mohave and Havasu in Arizona are infested with Quagga Mussels. Idaho has, thankfully, managed to stay free of them so far.

We must keep it that way. Do your part. Take the time to check your own boat and don’t quibble about Idaho boat inspections. Welcome them as an example of government intervention that protects us all.

Because Quagga Mussels are so small and multiply so rapidly, they can destroy anything they attach to. They can live in shallows along beaches, in river and lake beds, and even irrigation pipes and ditches. Once Quagga Mussels take hold, they are almost impossible to get rid of.

A 2017 report to the Idaho State Legislature estimated Quagga Mussels could cause tens of millions of dollars in damage if they ever take hold in Idaho’s public waterways. Whether it’s people like you and me who want to enjoy our lakes and rivers, or Idaho farmers who rely on irrigation pipes to water their crops, the Quagga Mussel represents a real and present threat.

We have just survived a quarrelsome state legislative session where ideology rather than common sense frequently prevailed. However, when it comes to fighting Quagga Mussels, I applaud the bipartisan measures put in place to keep Idaho safe from this menace. Outdoor recreation and agriculture are multibillion dollar industries providing thousands of Idaho jobs. We can cooperate to protect our economy by keeping the Quagga Mussel out of Idaho.

Over the last couple years, Idaho has appropriated money to increase the number of border check stations, keep existing stations open longer, and hire more inspectors for incoming boats which may be infested. Inspectors have conducted more than 600,000 boat searches since 2009 and stopped close to 250 infested watercrafts. These men and women have kept Idaho safe from a threatening foreign invader that could cost all of us millions of dollars, drain agricultural resources, and damage our cherished public waterways.

Idahoans place great value on privacy and freedom from government. Being subject to inspections will undoubtedly irritate some people. Inspectors are not out to get you. They are protecting you and Idaho from a perpetrator that has done untold damage across the country.

They are saving millions of tax dollars that would otherwise be spent trying to eliminate this invader from our public waterways, beaches, and water infrastructure. As patriotic Idahoans who value our public lands, cooperating with these inspectors is a duty we owe ourselves and our friends, neighbors and communities.

Please, for the sake of our beautiful state and to protect our economy, enjoy our public spaces and cheerfully endure boat inspections. While your boat is being inspected, you might say “thanks” to the inspector and be grateful this government intervention is protecting us all from a Russian invasion!

Chris Stevens of Pocatello is a former not-for-profit corporation founder and director, school administrator, and rock and roll radio promotion director. Her current passions are landscaping, grassroots political organizing, and volunteering for socially and environmentally conscious organizations. She is a co-founder of the Gateway Coalition for Change and is proud to have settled in Idaho.