A potential deadly threat to Bear Lake as we know it

A new breed of parasites may be coming to a Utah Lake near you if the pandemic spread of quagga mussels isn’t stopped soon. Since its appearance in the Great Lakes in 1989, the quagga, or Zebra mussels as it’s nicknamed due to its stripes, have invaded waterways from the Mississippi to the Colorado, leaving quite a mess in their wake. With some lakes in Idaho and Utah already infested with the mussel, fears that Bear Lake will be next on the list are real. “Red Fleet, which is 125 miles from here, has been infected,” says Jesse Taylor the legislative and financial consultant to the Bear Lake Regional Commission. “And it’s our concern that if someone doesn’t know these lakes are infected, they’ll say ‘hey we’ll take the kids and run to Bear Lake on Saturday and play’ and they will unknowingly spread them there.” Quagga mussels spread by attaching themselves to hard objects such as pipes, ropes, and the underside of boats and their propellers. With the ability to survive 3-5 days out of water, these aquatic pests are transported as vessels move from lake to lake. This Saturday, June 27th, politicians and environmental officials alike will meet at Bear Lake West in Fish Haven, Idaho for a legislative rendezvous where quagga mussels will be top priority. “We’ll be talking about all the efforts that Idaho’s doing, we’ll have an overview of the program and then later in the afternoon we’ll actually have some time with the Idaho folks to sit down with some of the parts of Utah and say ‘hey, uh, what do you guys wanna do to help us keep bear lake mussel free?’” said Taylor. “That’s the primary goal.” While the Gem State has over-achieved in their fight against the mussel, Utah has fallen behind. “Idaho is very progressive,” said member of the Bear Lake Regional Commission, Mitch Poulson. “They’ve written legislation for the quagga mussel and have quite a bit of money to help fight the quagga mussel and prevent infestation.” The State of Utah, on the other hand, has not. Currently only one boat inspector is employed for all vessels at Bear Lake marinas and other launching points. With 80% of the lake’s visitors from Utah, officials fear this isn’t nearly enough and could potentially allow the invasive mussel to sneak into one of Utah and Idaho’s last un-infected waterways. “I have somewhere between 8-12 teams of people,” said Taylor. “There’s no physical wall that will divide these guys from coming into Idaho from the Utah side. I mean, they don’t care about the Idaho border.” While only 2 cm in diameter, the size of a human thumbnail, quagga mussels do scores of harm to the aquatic ecosystem. Because they act as natural filter systems, they make the water clearer. Although it sounds good, it decreases the amounts of microorganisms. By removing life forms such as phytoplankton, quaggas in turn decrease the food source for zooplankton and fish, therefore altering the food web. “In Lake Michigan they actually saw a 95% reduction in their salmon,” comments Taylor. “The number was pretty drastic and the results wild.” Concerns for the Cisco and the Bonneville fish, only found in Bear Lake, are relevant. “Bear Lake has a very fragile ecosystem,” says Poulsen “and they [quagga mussels] really have the potential to disrupt that.” If infected, Bear Lake, known for its recreation, may be known for something else. “When quaggas die their shells end up on the beach,” said Taylor, “and they’re not like your old shells you find out there that are kinda cute. These are razor sharp and they’ll cut your feet.” In addition, quaggas provide no food for native species and create a “horrendous” stink, Taylor says, when its pseudofeces are defecated into the water. It’s going to take more than state officials from Idaho and Utah to preserve the lake we love; the help of the citizens is greatly needed, too. “What we really want to do is to get all the public aware of the problem,” Taylor says. “We want to let them know if they’ve been in a lake, especially Lake Mead, Lake Powell, Flaming Gorge, Red Fleet Reservoir to name a few. It’s our goal to let the public know you need to drain your boat, all the water out of your boat. That means your balance, your holding tanks, everything. Drain the water out, dry it and clean it.” For a fee ranging from $5-$20 boat owners can buy a registration sticker supporting the fight for Bear Lake and many others still unaffected. A new service from Utah/Idaho Park and Recreation will clean your vessel at no cost to you. The reason so many are concerned is once the quagga is there, it is virtually impossible to remove it. At a reproduction rate of 1.8 million offspring per adult, quagga could totally destroy the lake in a few years. “If one gets in there in a matter of weeks there’s an infestation,” Taylor said. “There are actually no chemicals that you could put in the water like the size of Bear Lake without killing everything else as well.” Although there is no quick fix to this impending situation, Taylor tries to remain optimistic about the future of Bear Lake. “We believe. We hope we still have time.”

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