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Friday, 31 March 2017 08:00

Motorized and trailer-launched watercraft no longer allowed in Waterton Lakes National Park

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Hand-launched and human-powered watercraft will still be permitted in Waterton Lakes National Park so people can still take a kayak out on the waters. Hand-launched and human-powered watercraft will still be permitted in Waterton Lakes National Park so people can still take a kayak out on the waters. Photo courtesy Parks Canada

Although it’s not a large number of users in terms of visitors to Waterton Lakes National Park, individuals hoping to use their motorized or trailer-launched watercraft in the park will no longer be permitted to do so.

On March 16, park officials announced the ban of motorized and trailer-launched watercraft in the national park. The unprecedented move was made as a way to stop the threat of the spread of invasive mussels which have now been located less than a half day’s drive away from the park in Montana.
Invasive aquatic mussel larvae were found in the Tiber Reservoir in Montana in November. Although it is not known which type of mussel — zebra or quagga — Dennis Madsen, resource conservation manager with Waterton Lakes National Park, says it doesn’t really matter as any invasive mussel is a threat.
“Once they are in the waterbody, there is no way to get rid of them,” he says. “They are there permanently.”
Invasive mussels, which can rapidly spread, are filter feeders.
They strip the nutrients from the water leaving little or no food for native species.
“They can restructure the entire food chain,” adds Madsen. “They are so prolific, they coat every hard surface.”
The economic impacts from an invasive mussel infestation are staggering with the Alberta government estimating it would cost about $75 million annually to deal with an outbreak.
While adults can attach themselves to watercrafts, free swimming microscopic larvae can simply float downstream or survive in small pools of water in hard-to-drain places on boats.
Officials believe the mussels discovered in Tiber Reservoir were taken there on a watercraft as the waterbody is so far away from the next nearest mussel infestation.
While motorized or trailer-launched watercraft are banned in Waterton, as well as neighbouring Glacier National Park on the U.S. side, what is allowed in the southwest Alberta national park are human-powered watercraft such as canoes, kayaks and paddleboards.
“Those vessels are easier to drain and there are not as many cavities that can hold water,” points out Madsen. “They also don’t sit in the water for long periods of time. By their very nature they represent a much smaller risk. There is also no known example of them transporting (invasive mussels).”
A mandatory self-inspection permit will be in place in Waterton for people using human-powered or hand-launched watercraft. Those permits will be available at various locations in the park as well as watercraft launch areas. People will need to answer some questions, sign the document and then submit a tear-off portion from the permit.
Visitors to Waterton will notice that the Shoreline Cruises boats will still be operating on Upper and Middle Waterton Lake with trips to Goat Haunt and Crypt Lake. Those boats never leave the park so pose no danger to possible mussel contamination.
Canoe rentals at Cameron Lake and stand-up paddle board rentals from the townsite area also will still be permitted.
Madsen says the ban on motorized or trailer-launched watercraft in the park will remain in place for the foreseeable future due to the significant and irreversible threat to the integrity of park waters. Those waters serve as habitat for bull trout which is threatened, as well as they are the only known lakes to contain the assemblage of lake trout, pygmy whitefish and rare glacial relic species such as opposum shrimp and deepwater sculpin.
Not only the threat to area species, there is also concern the headwaters of the South Saskatchewan River Basin, including the Oldman, are located in Waterton Lakes National Park.
Due to their movement, invasive mussels in these waterways could have devastating impacts on the irrigation system networks downstream and the water infrastructure of communities and cities, including Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor