UM J-school grad student Ken Rand of the Crown Reporting Project checks in from the Flathead River Basin
On an early morning I am winding my way up a back road, 10 miles northwest of Whitefish toward Beaver Lake, to the only known site of Eurasian Water Milfoil introduced into the Flathead River Basin. I am not sure what I will see when I get to the end of the dusty road, but on the map it didn’t seem so far.
I try to imagine a boater carrying an unnoticeable strand of Milfoil with them from a place like the Cabinet Gorge on the Clark Fork River a few hours west of here or even from further away in the Missouri River. This type of milfoil is present in every state but Wyoming, Hawaii and Alaska!
A quote from a fisheries biologist keeps coming back to my head: “We are good at moving plants and animals around, sometimes too good.”
The out-of-the-way lake has a view of the Whitefish Mountains and the ski resort in the distance. I slip my kayak loaded with camera gear into the lake, past signs warning of invasive species.
Beaver Lake is a small body of water, seemingly unlikely to be infested by an invasive species, but the boat launch provides access to many boaters.
I think of a modified version of a phrase from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it (they) will come.”
When I get to the far end of the lake, I see a Milfoil; I count the strands on the stem and photograph and film it with my underwater camera.
As I hold it in my hand, I realize how the delectate strands break apart, each one with the potential to become another plant. I watch each strand drift away and start to realize just how easy it can be to move a little strand of life to another place.
The plant I held, however, was likely a native Northern Milfoil that is hard to tell apart from its invasive cousin. To differentiate takes counting each strand on a branch or a genetic test in the lab.
I paddle on around the lake. I see loons and osprey floating and fishing on the water, and minnows and amphibians below.
I am happy to be writing about such a beautiful place and finding new ways to protect it.
After my paddle, I check my boat for any pieces of plant life, native or non-native. I am more aware of these hitchhikers than I was before.