SANDPOINT — The threat from invasive species is growing — that's why increased state funding to fight the problem is so critical.
The discovery of aquatic mussels in Montana was too close to home for Idaho officials.
"I think we were at a point where we were not going to move to the next level without more money," said Celia Gould, director of the Idaho Department of Agriculture, as she addressed Idaho's Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Tuesday.
Gould said the legislative group "kind of saved the day." In February, JFAC approved an emergency $710,000 appropriation to add three new boat inspection stations to intercept watercraft coming in from Montana.
JFAC members were in Sandpoint Tuesday as part their spring interim meeting. Sen. Shawn Keough, the committee's co-chair, said the tour rotates, so it has been three or four years since the group has been to Sandpoint. While meeting at the Edgewater Resort at City Beach, JFAC members were updated on watercraft inspection stations and learned how watercraft are checked and cleaned.
"We meet in the interim so we can get more hands-on information of what our budget numbers mean," Keough said. "We did increase funding, actually a historical amount of funding, for boat inspections because of the challenge we face to our waters if we don't take care of it."
Along with increased funding from the state this year, the invasive species program also received $1 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Lloyd Night, administrator for the Idaho Department of Agriculture's plant industries division.
Night said all but three of the state's 19 watercraft inspection stations are up and running for the season. One of the goals of the program is install night time stations. Originally, Department of Agriculture officials wanted to use the money from the Army Corps of Engineers for that purpose, but the guidelines of those funds require it to be used for operations, not infrastructure, Gould said.
Linda O'Hare, district administrator for the Bonner County Soil and Water Conservation District, presented JFAC with an update of Bonner County's inspection stations. BWCD opened its first station in 2009 at Sandpoint City Beach, she said, and three stations are now in operation to intercept watercraft coming into the county, one on Highway 95, one in Clark Fork and one at Albeni Falls Visitor Center on Highway 2.
O'Hare made a few suggestions for future funding, including the possibility of opening stations earlier in the year and covering derbies in April and September when the stations are closed for the season. Also, she said, electronic signs would be useful to keep people from driving past the stations. Finally, she said, BWCD is looking into educating marinas and resorts on the invasive species program and hopes to partner with the Department of Agriculture on it.
"We had training at one of our marinas before the stations opened up, and they know a lot about boats, but they don't know a lot about our program," O'Hare said.
After listening to the presentations, the group moved outside to the City Beach parking lot, where Nic Zurfluh, ag program specialist with the Department of Agriculture, demonstrated what they cover at inspection stations.
Before boarding the bus to Coeur d'Alene, the JFAC group also heard from David Groeschl, deputy director for the Idaho Department of Lands, who updated the committee on the work of the Good Neighbor Authority. Under the 2014 Farm Bill, GNA expanded to all states. It is a federal law that enable the United States Forest Service to partner with IDL to achieve restoration and resilient landscape objectives across ownership boundaries in Idaho.
The spring interim meeting is scheduled to continue today in Coeur d'Alene at the Idaho Transportation Department and North Idaho College. The group will also tour the North Idaho Crisis Center and the Department of Health and Welfare.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.