ALBANY - Lanoie Wieland was headed to Blue Lake in Portland on Thursday, driving north on Interstate 5, when he saw the "boat inspection" sign posted just south of the rest stop near the Santiam River. Wieland pulled his rig - a truck and a trailer with a small, flat-bottomed boat on the roof - up to the temporary inspection station set up by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The North Dakota resident said he was happy to comply with the inspection and not remotely surprised by it.
All across the West, the hunt is on for aquatic invasive species stowing away on boats, fishing gear and even on anglers' boots, leap frogging from lake to lake, where they multiply like crazy, smothering the native species and clogging everything from power plant pipes to irrigation ditches.
Small mussels - zebra and quagga mussels that measure less than 2 inches long - present the biggest threat, state fish and wildlife officials say. Even though they haven't been found in any Oregon waterways yet, out-of-state boats encrusted with them occasionally have been spotted on state highways, said Rick Boatner, a Fish and Wildlife biologist heading the agency's battle against aquatic invasive species.
Before the state developed its boat decontamination stations, Oregon State Police occasionally were called upon to escort out-of-state boaters to the border to make sure they didn't launch their mussel- encrusted vessels here, Boatner said.
With the passage of a new law and a new boating fee, Oregon now has five inspection teams who work at boat docks across the state, prepared to help decontaminate boats carrying unwanted hitchhikers.
The inspection teams also are setting up impromptu inspection areas at rest stops along the interstate in an effort to educate boaters about the problem and about new fees that must be paid by boat owners with craft 10 feet or longer.
In contrast to many elements of state government that are stagnant or in retreat in the face of Oregon's budget crisis, the state's war against invasive waterborne species is accelerating. The money is coming from the new annual fee that virtually all recreational boaters must pay - and that some are resisting paying.
Nor is the inspection effort guaranteed to succeed. It's entirely up to boat owners whether to let inspectors examine their watercraft, be it at a highway rest stop or a lake or river put-in. The new law doesn't give inspectors the right to search for the invasives against a boat owner's objections.
On Thursday, the inspection team estimated that about 30 percent of drivers hauling boats were pulling into the rest area to comply with the inspections. The rest were giving the inspection area a wide berth.
"It has to be done"
Wieland works for SolarBee, a company whose solar-powered pumps sit in lakes and reservoirs all across the country. His job is periodic maintenance on the pump systems, making him and his boat a potential vector for the spread of invasive species. To keep that from happening, Wieland said, he scrubs down his boat - and his boots - each time he hauls out of the water. His boat got a clean bill of health from Oregon officials on Thursday.
"It's necessary," he said of the inspections and of the cleaning regimen his company requires. "It has to be done."
Zebra and quagga mussels have been the bane of Eastern waters since arriving in the Great Lakes in the 1980s in the ballast water of transoceanic ships. They quickly reproduced and spread and have become notorious for clogging water-intake systems at power plants, irrigation districts and public water supplies.
Prodigious consumers of phytoplankton, they alter not only the food web, but water clarity, which can affect what thrives and what doesn't.
They have been moving steadily west and have so infested Lake Mead on the Nevada- Arizona border since being discovered there in 2007 that the lake has become a training ground for wildlife officials looking to learn as much as they can about them and how to control them.
Martyne Reesman, an aquatic invasive species technician for the state and one of three working at the rest stop on Thursday, attended a workshop at Lake Mead where she took pictures of a shoe and a boat propeller that had been suspended in the lake for two months. They came out so coated with mussels that they were unrecognizable.
"The colonization rates are unbelievable," she said.
Emphasis on education
To help fund Oregon's inspection and education efforts, boat owners must now purchase an invasive species permit for any boat 10 feet long or longer, thanks to a bill passed by the state Legislature that went into effect in January.
As of the first week in July, 349,885 motorboat owners had obtained the permits while 116,729 owners of nonmotorized boats had them, said Randy Henry, a policy analyst with the State Marine Board.
The annual permits aren't expensive. Owners of kayaks, canoes and other nonmotorized craft pay $7. Those with motorboats or sailboats will have a $5 surcharge added to their annual boat registrations. Out-of-state boaters pay $22.
The money goes into a dedicated fund split between the Marine Board and Fish and Wildlife, Henry said.
"It's very new," Henry said. "The inspection teams have just been hired."
For now, the state is working more on education and boat inspections rather than enforcement of the new permits, Henry said. It's not clear when actual enforcement will begin, but the lack of a permit is a Class D Violation that carries a $142 fine.
During an informal survey by the Register-Guard at several boat landings along the Mc Kenzie River, all of the dozen boaters contacted knew about the invasive species permits and most, though not all, had bought them.
Not everybody is happy about it.
Some drift boaters object
Springfield High School football coach Sean Himmelman, putting in at the Leaburg boat landing on a scorching afternoon with friend and fellow coach Shane Davis, grumbled about the new permit.
Davis laughed a little as he helped launch Himmelman's 16-foot drift boat.
"We're evasive about invasives," he said.
But Himmelman didn't evade the question: "I hate the idea for drift boaters," he said.
While he likes the state's efforts to limit the spread of invasive species, Himmelman thinks drift boaters like him are least likely to spread them. Invasive species are more common in lakes than in cold, fast-flowing rivers such as the McKenzie, he said.
"Plus we're already paying lots of fees," he said. "Fees to park, fees to fish. ... I'm against it, though I understand why it's there."
Aaron Adams and his 10-year-old son Jake, who stopped at the Leaburg dam for lunch while driving home to North Bend after visiting Bend, said they knew about the new permits but hadn't bought one yet for their kayak.
Adams was skeptical about the need for the state program.
"Most people I know with kayaks already wash their boats," he said.
His son Jake fired off a long list of questions about the invasive species the fee is aimed at.
What kind of species? How do they get on boats? Are they edible? How did they get here? Do they attach to whales? Why only 10-foot or longer boats? Why does the state's pamphlet about the permits say "clean, drain and dry?"
Snail has arrived in Oregon
The mussels aren't the only aquatic invasives of concern, said Boatner, the state biologist.
The New Zealand mud snail, equally prolific, already has arrived in Oregon, having hitched a ride from the islands, most likely with anglers.
The mud snail is tiny, less than a quarter-inch in length, but as many as 100,000 have been counted in a 3-square-foot area. Mud snails outcompete native invertebrates for food, but are not a good food for other species to eat, Boatner said. The snail has an ability to seal itself up, which allows it to pass through a fish's gut unhurt.
That ability is what also makes it so invasive. It can survive for weeks out of the water, Boatner said, and because it is so small, it's hard to spot on clothing and gear. Boatner has glued 18 of the mud snails to a wading boot and has yet to have anyone detect all 18, he said.
Mud snails were first seen in Idaho in the Snake River and have since spread throughout the West. In Oregon, they have been found in the Deschutes, Umpqua and Rogue rivers.
In New Zealand, a parasite controls their spread, but it's not clear what unintended consequences might result from introducing that parasite here, Boatner said.
Another invader, not yet identified but known as the mystery snail, has been turning up as well, the result of people with aquariums who get tired of the hobby and dump the contents into a local waterway, Boatner said.
"They don't think about the consequence," he said.
Paddlers may be unaware
While the mud snail hasn't been spotted yet in Lane County, our local lakes and rivers contain three invasive aquatic plants that reproduce quickly and create a monoculture in local lakes that reduces the amount of food available for fish. Some of the plants have so thoroughly choked lakes in Florida that people can't get boats into the water, Boatner said.
While these invasive plants - parrots feather, Eurasian watermilfoil and Brazilian waterweed - are more common in lakes, they do turn up in the side channels and slower-moving water of rivers such as the Willamette, Boatner said.
Like the mollusks, the plants are prolific.
The subtlety of the invaders has prompted the state's "clean, drain and dry" campaign.
"The biggest single thing is getting people to clean their gear after they pull out," Marine Board analyst Henry said.
Becky Hill, an aquatic invasive species technician with the state, said she used a high-pressure washer with water heated to between 140 and 160 degrees, plus elbow grease and a putty scraper, to tackle a boat encrusted with mud snails that she and a colleague discovered while inspecting boats at La Page Park at the mouth of the John Day River recently.
The process took more than three hours, and while the boat's owner was disappointed not to get on the river as soon as he wanted, he was cooperative.
"We were expecting drama, but he was great about it," Hill said.
Kayak and canoe owners can simply wash down their craft on a gravel pad or even the front lawn on a hot dry day. The plants will dry out and die quickly in the sun, Henry, said.
Fishing gear and boots, especially felt-soled boots, should be carefully inspected and cleaned, Boatner said.
He recommends carrying a potato-style scrub brush for cleaning boots. A 50 percent solution of a degreaser will work, or boots can be put in the freezer to kill snails.
In coming months, boaters can expect to see more signs about invasives and the permits going up at boat landings.
While motorboat owners already are in the habit of registering their craft, not all paddlers know about the permits, Henry said.
"We know we have a ways to go to get to all the paddle boaters. We've made an effort to contact all boaters in the state, but paddle boaters are individualists who have never been regulated in any way in the past," he said.
INVASIVES IN LANE COUNTY
These species have been found locally:
Parrots feather: Willamette River, Siuslaw River, constructed ponds south of Siltcoos River, Siltcoos Lagoons, Triangle Lake, Woahink Lake, Dorena Lake, Erheart Lake
Brazilian waterweed: Willamette River, Mercer Lake, Siltcoos Lake, Siltcoos Lagoons, Sutton Lake, Triangle Lake
Eurasian watermilfoil: Willamette River, Coast Fork Willamette, Fern Ridge Lake, Cottage Grove Lake, Sutton Lake