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GFP focusing on hiring boat inspectors to combat zebra mussels

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Nearly half of positions are unfilled for officers who inspect boats entering South Dakota waters.

That’s according to South Dakota Game Fish and Parks, which is tasked with mitigating the spread of zebra mussels and other invasive species.

As of July, Game, Fish and Parks has 22 watercraft inspector positions open. The department hopes to have it fully staffed at 53.

Jake Davis is the statewide aquatics program administrator with the department. He says the goal is to fill all open positions.

“We can’t be everywhere all the time. We talked about the 492 boat ramps that exist within the state. The abundance of resources that are out there. That’s why we do feel like focusing on outreach and education, reaching those users so they can utilize that information," Davis said. "Really relying on surface water users of the state to utilize best management practices. That’s on us to make sure we get them the necessary information.”

Game, Fish and Parks says it advises users to “slow the spread” of invasive species by draining and drying their watercraft. That is how zebra mussels are primarily transported.

Zebra mussel were first discovered in South Dakota in 2015 and have been found in 11 new lakes in the past four years.

Game, Fish and Parks confirmed the presence of zebra mussels in Enemy Swim Lake on Friday. The invasive species was discovered in Pactola Reservoir earlier this year.

Zebra mussel-infested waters create elevated levels of mercury in fish.

Below is GF&P responses to Sept. 21 questions from Rep. Randy Gross on behalf of the Government Operations and Audit committee about the department's aquatic invasive species management.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.