Mike Cuffe

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Inspections of equipment, not just watercraft, are now allowed, and Fish, Wildlife and Parks is taking a bigger role in running the program in partnership with the state departments of Natural Resources and Conservation, Transportation and Agriculture.

The mussel-covered aluminum pipe Cuffe carries around is an effective education tool showing how quickly mussels latch onto fixed objects and spread, eventually causing damage. The pipe was submerged in Lake Mead in Arizona and Nevada. Now it’s covered with mussels on the outside and inside the pipe. “It’s a complete game changer,” Cuffe says of invasive mussels. “That water way will never be the same.”

Both mussels and milfoil can hitch a ride on boat propellers, the bottom of the boats, trailers and equipment. Left unchecked, they proliferate and can clog irrigation systems, dams, recreational waters and municipal water systems in Montana and choke out native vegetation and aquatic life, Cuffe says.

As infestations move closer to Montana’s borders, the threats of boats being brought into the state that have been used in out-of-state waters with heavy infestations is increasing, Cuffe said.

“These are devastating to aquatic life,” he adds.

Much of the public doesn’t realizes how serious the threat is, says Cuffe, and that’s why he’s beating the bushes and boat ramps to get the word out that’s there’s new muscle in the fight against mussels and milfoil.



Aquatic Invasive Species Act

Great Falls Tribue
Karl Puckett Staff Writer

Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS)
Mike Cuffe doesn’t hesitate when he spots Steve Riggin and his son, Patrick, preparing to launch a boat at Broadwater Bay on the Missouri River in Great Falls. Holding a pipe covered and plugged with an invasive species of mussel, he walks over and asks if they’ve ever seen anything like it.

“I didn’t have any idea how much they latch onto something,” Steve Riggin says of the quagga mussels clinging to the pipe. “That’s scary.”


Cuffe, a Republican state representative from Eureka, isn’t shy about approaching boaters and hitting them over the head with his cautionary and educational message about the dangers invasive aquatic species pose to Montana, and using his mussel-covered pipe to do it.

He chairs the Montana Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural Resources and Transportation and was the primary sponsor in the 2013 Legislature of a bill that beefs up the state’s aquatic invasive species law. Its aim is to keep mussels like the ones coating the pipe out of Montana. Cuffe says the aquatic hitchhikers are akin to noxious weeds that spread like wildfire on land, such as spotted knapweed, and would be just as devastating to the state’s lakes and rivers.

Education is as critical as the boat inspections that the new law bolsters, he says. “The big thing is I want to get the word out, just like these guys here,” Cuffe says as he leaves the boat ramp .In a session that saw its share of partisan wrangling, Cuffe says most lawmakers agreed in approving House Bill 586. And he says it will have a big impact on the state’s fight against invading aquatic pests, particularly mussels and Eurasian water milfoil.

“We stepped up our program big time,” Cuffe says. “House Bill 587 was a big step forward in dealing with aquatic invasive species.”

The state already has an inspection program to prevent the importation of invasive species The bill boosted appropriations for aquatic invasive species control for the biennium to $1.58 million. It also established a statewide invasive species management area and authorized use of quarantine measures and check stations at key entry points to the state.