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New Mexico's new law fights invasive mussel

By Sue Major Holmes


Associated Press Writer


ALBUQUERQUE – New Mexico will try to educate boaters and others who use the state’s waters to keep out a tiny, damaging mussel.


The state’s new Aquatic Invasive Species Control Act, signed last week, lets the Department of Game and Fish and the State Parks Division protect New Mexico waters by designating what’s considered invasive and acting against those species.


Previously, there was no means for the state, in consultation with federal officials, to make such determinations.


Primarily, the law will target the tiny zebra and quagga mussels, pests the size of a fingernail that clog water pipes, choke boat motors and kill


native plants and wildlife by


removing their food sources.


The mussels haven’t been found in New Mexico, but game department officials say they’ve been found in the adjacent states of Colorado, Arizona and Utah.


Nationwide, states have spent millions of dollars fighting the mussels.


The first step against such aquatic invaders will be education, "helping people help themselves and helping people be aware," said Game and Fish Deputy Director Bob Jenks.


"Public support and assistance will be critical," he said.


With boating season opening on Memorial Day, the state agencies will hand out flyers at lakes and other waters and post information on Web sites to let people know the invaders are a danger not only to the ecology of a particular body of water, but to nearby recreation-dependent businesses.


The success of preventing the arrival of invasive species – or stopping their spread if they do end up in some New Mexico waters – "depends on the willingness and ability of folks at large," Jenks said.


Eventually, there will be facilities where trained staff can inspect boats, Jenks said. Then, "when something is observed ... we have the ability to take care of it right there," he said.


The law provides the authority not only for inspections, but also for boats, personal watercraft and equipment used in waters infested with invasive species to be certified as decontaminated before entering New Mexico waters.


Boaters can help by removing mud, plants and other debris before moving their equipment and cleaning, and drying anything that came into contact with water, including boats, trailers, bait buckets, waders – even dogs.  Inspections would be aimed only at pests New Mexico has designated.


"We may observe other things and inform the boat owner that there’s an issue," but the state would pursue only targeted pests, Jenks said.


The law was a logical step from the department’s Aquatic Invasive Species Advisory Council, which worked last year to develop a management plan. That effort involved dozens of people from federal, state and tribal governments as well as business and private groups.


The management plan, approved by Gov. Bill Richardson and a federal Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force, provides a framework for dealing with invasive species, Jenks said.


New Mexico has had aquatic problems in the past.


In 2001, the state killed nearly 400,000 rainbow trout at a hatchery because they were


infected with whirling disease.

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