Montana Invasive Species Summit focuses on sharing ideas

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HELENA — Leaders from across Montana are in Helena this week, working on statewide priorities for invasive species management.

The Montana Invasive Species Council brought together about 100 stakeholders from across the state on Tuesday, for the state’s 2022 Invasive Species Summit. Their goal was to continue the message of protecting Montana’s land and water.

“I think we’re lucky in Montana to be an uphill state, and so it takes people to move invasive species into Montana,” said Bryce Christiaens, county weed district manager. Missoula and President of MISC. “It gives us the opportunity to bring information and best management practices – especially when so many people are trying to get to Montana to take advantage of the natural resources here.”

Jonathon Ambarian

At the summit, federal and state agencies provided information, with exhibits of invasive animals, insects and plants. Local and tribal governments and private entities also participated.

“One of the unique things about invasive species work is that it doesn’t recognize jurisdictional boundaries that we recognize, so it’s really important that we have collaborative efforts that bring all of these partners together,” said Christians.

Martin Charlo, MISC member and secretary of the Confederate Salish and Kootenai Tribal Council, says invasive species — especially aquatic species — are an issue that resonates with his community.

“Water protection has always been culturally important,” he said. “We put in place a cultural waterways ordinance last year to protect the Flathead River on the reservation and then obviously downstream.”

Montana Invasive Species Summit

Jonathon Ambarian

Charlo says the tribes have focused much of their efforts on mussels — including operating their own monitoring stations — but they also want to be ready for other invasive species, like feral hogs.

“With invasive species, if you get ahead of the game, it’s much easier to be proactive than reactive,” he said. “That’s the main thing, it’s just to make sure we learn as much as we can while we’re here.”

Organizers say the goal was for everyone at the summit to share their ideas. They held several working sessions, during which participants spoke in pairs and in small groups, and then presented their main priorities to the whole group.

On Tuesday morning, attendees made suggestions for the “Top Ten” invasive species Montana should talk about.

“These are ten species that tell the story of why we manage invasive species the way we do in Montana,” said Mindy Wilkinson, who moderated the discussion.

Montana Invasive Species Summit

Jonathon Ambarian

Zebra and quagga mussels remained the main species of concern for many speakers. Others have identified things like feral hogs, invasive weeds, and emerald ash borer. When leaders finalize the top ten list, they plan to use it in their public messaging on invasive species.

By the end of the summit, organizers hope to have a work plan that can help guide management efforts over the next few years. Christiaens says they don’t want to focus too much on one species.

“I think it’s important that we have a broader stewardship message,” he said. “There are things we can do to prevent the movement of invasive species, no matter what group of taxa they come from.”

It was the first time the summit had been held in person since 2018. The event will continue until Wednesday afternoon.

You can find more information on the MISC website.

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