Education program helping contain zebra, quagga mussels

This buoy covered with zebra mussels now is nearly unrecognizable. Zebra and quagga mussels are considered serious threat to inland waters partly because of the mussels’ ability to block water pipes and other structures.

It was more than 10 years ago that I first spoke with Wayne Gustaveson, the renowned Lake Powell aquatic biologist, about the then-nascent threat posed to Western waters by zebra and quagga mussels.

Although most states were aware of the danger from these pipe-clogging, motor-ruining exotic species, there was a huge question of whether anglers and boaters would also recognize the dangers.

Gustaveson’s main concern was getting the word out to boaters on how to make their craft zebra mussel-proof, but he also knew prevention would be only as good as the education.

“It’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when,” Gustaveson said about the invasion of the tiny-but-prolific mussels and their ilk. “We need to get the word out to boaters that the more vigilant we are about protecting our waters, the longer we can put off seeing these invasive species in Lake Powell.”

That intensive education program, which includes inspections and hot-washing any boat even suspected of carrying the exotic mussels, has managed to keep Lake Powell free of zebra and quagga mussels.

Colorado began its own mussel-free program in 2004 after finding New Zealand mudsnails in Boulder Creek. Then, in 2007, zebra mussels were discovered in Lake Pueblo and the education/prevention program really took off.

Today, you can’t enter a state park or public water without seeing warning signs about zebra or quagga mussels and other invasive aquatic species.

When Colorado State Parks and the Division of Wildlife merged earlier this summer into Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the two agencies also combined their aquatic inspection programs.

But even as the program evolves, the challenges mount.

“We have had success with our boat inspection programs to prevent invasive species, but there are a few aquatic nuisance species that can spread via methods other than boats,” said Elizabeth Brown, an invasive species coordinator with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“The fact that we’re finding new populations means we have to work harder to engage the public to do their part to clean and dry all their gear and equipment as well as their boats to protect our waters.”

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, rusty crayfish were discovered in 2009 in the headwaters of the Yampa River and recently have been confirmed in the reservoir at Stagecoach State Park, south of Steamboat Springs.

Additionally, New Zealand mudsnails have been found in Eleven Mile Reservoir and the lakes of Delaney Buttes State Wildlife Area in North Park, and quagga mussels again have been confirmed in Lake Pueblo.

“Invasive species are very effective at hitching a ride to new places on everything from boats to waders to hiking boots,” Brown said.

“Recreationists can stop the spread of these costly invaders by cleaning their equipment in between each and every use.

“The majority of Colorado’s waters are still free of invasive species and through a comprehensive education program we hope to keep it that way.”

Boaters and anglers can find information on preventing the spread of invasive species at;; and at


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