About the Upper Columbia River Basin
The prevention of aquatic invasive species (AIS) introductions and spread provide significant benefits to the environment, state and local economies, and industries dependent on water such as hydropower generation and irrigation.
The natural resource benefits that can be attained as a result of AIS prevention in the Upper Columbia Basin are significant. The Columbia River Basin covers nearly 260,000 square miles. It includes the headwaters portion or ‘Upper Columbia,’ of interest here, which consists of western Montana and southeastern British Columbia. These headwaters move downstream into the states of Idaho, Washington and Oregon. The Columbia River pours more water into the Pacific Ocean than any other river in North or South America; many states, communities, economies and industries rely on the river for benefits such as low cost and reliable hydro-electricity, flood control, irrigation, navigation, recreation and fisheries. All of these benefits are at risk due to the threat of AIS.
The Upper Columbia Conservation Commission (UC3) is in a unique position to not only augment existing AIS prevention efforts in the state, but also to assist in the protection of all the bountiful downstream benefits. The management agencies, stakeholders and citizens of the entire Columbia River Basin are looking to Montana to help protect them from an introduction of zebra or quagga mussels, especially given the 2016 detection of larval mussels in two Montana reservoirs east of the Continental Divide. The longer an introduction can be curbed, the more protected the native species, the less funding spent on response efforts, and the longer we have to augment the science and develop control methods that are more likely to be effective.
In the US, the National Invasive Species Management Plan defines an invasive species as “a species that is non-native to the ecosystem under consideration and whose introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” Invasive species are one of the largest threats to biodiversity, cited as second only to habitat destruction as a result of development.
Aquatic invasive species can:
- Outcompete and displace native species
- Cause dramatic shifts in trophic dynamics, food web structure, and species abundance
- Cause local extinction of species
- Cause large-scale mortality of trees and shrubs
- Reduce the value of timber and agricultural crops and their associated products
- Alter ecosystem processes
- Modify the provision of ecosystem services
- Alter gene pools through hybridization with native species
- Alter carbon and nitrogen cycling, water use, and soil properties
- Reduce potential of recreationally hunted and fished species
- Diminish habitat aesthetics
- Alter water chemistry
In order to prevent these significant damages to Montana’s biodiversity, ecology, habitat, economies and way of life, management agencies, stakeholders and citizens must work together to prevent the introduction and spread of AIS into Montana’s waterways. These benefits are not limited to the State of Montana, but extend to the downstream interests of the entire Columbia River Basin as well.