Pacific Northwest seaplane pilots have pioneered a program that would allow pilots to perform their own invasive species inspections prior to landing in another state’s waters rather than requiring state or federal inspectors to perform the examination.
Participants watch an educational video, take an accompanying quiz, and pocket a completion certificate. The course describes how to analyze seaplane aircraft for contamination, and if detected, how to rid the invasive species from the craft. The novel plan was rolled out in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana a few weeks ago and is gaining traction. Proponents say it could lower the cost of inspections for pilots, speed up interstate transport for floatplanes, and lessen the burden for government examiners.
The Seaplane Pilots Association began invasive species training almost 10 years ago and has online resources dedicated to mitigating their spread.
Zebra mollusks and Eurasian watermilfoil are at the top of the list of tiny aquatic hitchhikers that have confounded environmental detectives for decades. The two invasive species have taken a stronghold since they were unwittingly imported to the United States by oceangoing ships that unloaded water ballast into the Great Lakes. The mollusks are relative newcomers and first appeared around 1988 before spreading east and west. However, the date of entry for the milfoil weed is unknown and could have occurred “between the 1880s and the 1940s,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The U.S. Geological Survey describes zebra mollusks as small shellfish native to the Black, Caspian, and Azov Seas that are named for the striped pattern of their shell. The species is usually found attached to objects, surfaces, or other mussels and has “profoundly affected the science of invasion biology along with public perception and policy.”
The Washington State Recreation and Conservation office noted that Eurasian watermilfoil is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. The submersed plant may thrive in a variety of still and flowing fresh water bodies and “can tolerate a range of salinity, pH, and temperature.” The invasive plant has alarmed environmental organizations and outdoor enthusiasts because it can form “dense mats that shade native aquatic plants, inhibit water flow, and hamper recreation.” The water weed can quickly infest an entire lake with vegetation that interrupts the food chain and natural habitat for fish, waterfowl, and other wildlife.
Seaplane pilots must be especially wary of the critters and the weeds because the submerged surfaces of their aircraft can attract the mollusk larvae and the vegetation can get stuck or jammed in floats and water rudders. A leaky pontoon can also clandestinely harbor the aquatic life.
Hinds explained that before pilots fly a seaplane from one waterway to another, the seaplane is required to be free of invasive species and inspected just like a boat. “This has caused a major problem for seaplanes because we can’t pull over on the side of the road like you can with a car, a boat, and a trailer."
The Western Governors’ Association, which is composed of 19 leaders and three U.S. territories, recently collaborated on shared policy to combat invasive species and presented the recommendations to a U.S. House committee.
“We are very concerned about the spread of invasive species and the Seaplane Pilots Association is proactively doing everything we can to be responsible stewards of our resources,” said Steve McCaughey, the seaplane organization’s president. “We are committed to be the front line of defense for pilot-awareness because it’s in all of our best interests to be the most aggressive guardians of the environment. Every month, every week, every day, the organization is dedicating more time, effort, and resources for this issue.”