The Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce is concerned about the impact an tiny mussel could have on the region.
Earlier this year, it was announced an endangered mussel native to Okanagan Lake was being harmed by milfoil harvesting.
The Okanagan Basin Water Board has managed invasive Eurasian milfoil in the Okanagan for more than four decades with rototilling.
For years the board’s rototillers have avoided areas where the Rocky Mountain ridged mussel, listed as a “special concern” under the federal Species at Risk Act, had been found.
Earlier this year the list of beaches in the Okanagan where the mussel has been spotted grew substantially to include several high-public use areas that are traditionally rototilled, including Kin and Paddlewheel Park beaches in Vernon.
“Our chamber appreciates the need to protect aquatic species and specifically the Rocky Mountain Ridged Mussel (RMRM). However, we have significant concern about regulations that have recently prohibited the rototilling of the milfoil weed in areas where RMRM are located, particularly as there is no firm evidence that rototolling negatively impacts the RMRM,” chamber president Diana Wilson said in a letter to federal and provincial officials.
“If anything, there is evidence that allowing milfoil to grow unchecked will disturb conditions for the mussels.”
The chamber is also concerned that the decision to classify the RMRM as endangered under the Species at Risk Act does not reflect more recent studies and particularly a 2015 study that estimated the total population at nine sites to be more than 13,000.
“We believe strongly that the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada must review the latest data, and that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans must conduct public consultations on classifying RMRM as endangered,” Wilson said.
“Anyone familiar with the Okanagan knows that our lakes are at the very heart of our lifestyle and economy. We depend on them for drinking water, irrigation, recreation and tourism. It is because of our reliance on these lakes that effective milfoil control is essential. Without it, the invasive plant infests public beaches, boating areas and marinas.”
A B.C. Ministry of Environment report in 1991 indicated ending the milfoil control program would generate an economic loss in the millions of dollars.
“The chamber takes the status of the RMRM very seriously, and we support measures that allow the species to flourish. However, there is a requirement for a more evidence-based and balanced approach that protects the RMRM while allowing the invasive Eurasian milfoil to be addressed,” Wilson said.
The chamber is asking the federal and provincial departments to conduct further research into the potential impact of milfoil derooting on RMRM and to permit the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) to conduct derooting in areas where milfoil control historically occurs.
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