Photo by Whitehorse Star
Photo by Whitehorse Star
The Yukon is surrounded by jurisdictions with legal authority to maximize efforts to prevent the arrival of invasive mussels that have hammered the Great Lakes – and beyond.
The Yukon does not have any such authority.
But Environment Yukon is asking the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board to recommend to the territorial cabinet that the Yukon sign onto the federal Aquatic Invasive Species Regulations.
Embracing the federal regulations would open the door for the Yukon government to develop its own tools to protect against the invasive species.
“Listing Yukon as a prohibited jurisdiction for the possession, transportation and release of zebra and quagga mussels would enable Yukon to develop an AIS program whereby authorized officials could stop, detain for inspection, order decontamination and quarantine of watercraft where contamination is suspected,” reads the proposal.
Todd Powell, Environment’s manager of biodiversity, explained the proposal and the possible consequences of doing nothing at the public meeting hosted by the management board earlier this month to discuss 14 proposed changes to wildlife regulations.
Yukoners have until 1 p.m. Friday to provide written submissions to the management board or fill out an online survey available on the board’s website.
“We are more vulnerable than we realize,” Powell told the audience of the threat of zebra and quagga mussels.
“There is a lot of water in the Yukon where the two mussels could take hold.”
The mussels attached to boats, kayaks, canoes and paddle boards can live out of water for 30 days in the non-winter months, certainly long enough to survive a cross-country tour.
Their presence alters ecosystems, with significant impacts on natural fisheries, tourism and recreation.
The damage to underwater infrastructure and hydro facilities has been enormous.
Todd said the Great Lakes region in both Canada and the U.S. spends $500 million a year combating zebra and quagga mussels to keep their infrastructure functioning.
Currently, both Alberta and B.C. have significant programs and regulations that provide authorities with the ability to prohibit watercraft from entering their lakes for a period of 30 days.
B.C. has a summer staff of approximately 70 operating 10 check stations and decontamination facilities, a handful of them operating 24-hours a day. The effort in Alberta is slightly higher.
He said the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has officers at the border, and if they stop a boat they deem suspicious, they can turn it around.
So if you’re turned around at the Alaska border near Beaver Creek, Powell posed to the audience, where’s the next option for launching a boat?
The most recent occurrence of zebra mussels was in Montana, not far from the Alberta border.
In Canada, zebra mussels have been recorded as far west as Manitoba, most notably Lake Winnipeg.
Powell told the audience that 2016 roadside statistics of vehicles hauling boats or other watercraft that were checked in Dawson Creek, showed 19 per cent were headed to the Yukon, and 51 per cent to Alaska.
In B.C., he explained in an interview, boats deemed to be a risk are red-flagged with a seal that is affixed to the boat and trailer, prohibiting the boat from leaving the trailer for 30 days.
If a boat at risk is heading north to the Yukon, B.C. will call the territory and let officials know.
Officers could issue a special order to prevent the boat from being unloaded, if they’re aware of it and have visible evidence.
But often evidence is not visible, not if the mussels are up inside the leg of the motor or in the bilge.
Having a program and regulations in the Yukon would not only provide officials here with the ability to develop a homemade strategy for the territory, but it would also beef up the safety net already being provided by Alberta and B.C., he said.
Powell said even with the efforts in the two provinces, not every vehicle coming west or heading north hauling a boat or carrying a watercraft gets stopped.
Developing regulations for the Yukon, he emphasized, would certainly involve a thorough public discussion.
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