KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — Glacier National Park officials, under pressure from U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, loosened boating restrictions enacted when invasive mussels were found in a Montana reservoir about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the park, the Flathead Beacon reported.
Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift told the Beacon (bit.ly/2t0BYMK) that Zinke spoke to park officials in March about allowing landowners within park boundaries — whose boats never leave the park — to be able to use park waters.
Zinke did not talk about allowing additional motorized boats, Swift said.
The Beacon learned about the pressure from Zinke after obtaining an internal memo circulated among National Park Service employees.
Park officials had initially said they did not plan to allow any motorized watercraft access this summer before abruptly announcing Monday that restrictions would be eased on all boats using Glacier’s Lake McDonald in coming weeks.
By late Tuesday — after taking criticism from conservationists who said the move would put park resources at risk — Glacier officials walked back the changes to include only boats owned by landowners within the park. Motorized boats from outside the park will continue to be barred.
Swift told The Associated Press the revision was ordered by Zinke’s office to correct Monday’s announcement, which she said had been “mistakenly” issued. Glacier officials said in an emailed statement that Monday’s announcement had been premature and was not directed by the Interior Department.
In the memo, Zinke told park officials to “find ways for the taxpayers to be able to use their motorboats in our park waters” this summer, the Beacon reported. Swift said no such memo had been sent by Zinke’s office and that she did not know where it originated.
Glacier closed park waters to all boating last November, when invasive mussel larvae were found in Tiber Reservoir on the Marias River southwest of Chester.
The tiny, striped shellfish multiply rapidly and can be spread to other bodies of water by latching onto boats, wading boots and other objects. Mussels can damage beaches, clog boat motors, harm fish and block irrigation equipment and water intakes.
As a result of the positive test, Montana added more boat inspection and contamination stations, and out-of-state watercraft will have to be inspected prior to launching in any Montana waterway.
With the inspection sites in place, some bodies of water that had been closed have re-opened.
In March, Glacier park opened its waters to non-motorized craft and later allowed rental or chartered motorized boats that had remained in the park.
The park said Monday it also had begun allowing landowners around Lake McDonald to launch motorized boats and that it would soon announce an inspection and 30-day quarantine procedure that would allow other motorized boats in the park.
“Our objective is to provide an appropriate level of user access to the extent that we can, and ensure that those motorboats do not pose a risk to park waters,” Superintendent Jeff Mow said Monday.
Swift called it “a common-sense measure that is consistent with Montana’s values of recreation and multiple use of public lands.”
Conservationists and former Glacier National Park Superintendent Chas Cartwright criticized the reversal.
“They had a plan to minimize the risk, and the plan was to close all park waters to all motorized craft for this field season,” Cartwright said. “This is not the plan. I am flabbergasted that we would consider opening park waters now.”
David Brooks, executive director of Montana Trout Unlimited, called the decision irresponsible.
“It’s an open door to the Columbia River Basin that shouldn’t be opened unless Glacier is fully staffed and has the resources necessary to inspect and decontaminate every boat,” Brooks said.