The City of Vernon believes rototilling on area lakes does not harm a native species of mussel, contrary to what the province things. (Morning Star - file photo)

Vernon council at odds with Victoria over lake rototilling

City supports Okanagan Basin Water Board's rototilling program is not harming native mussel species

The City of Vernon says there’s no scientific proof provided by Victoria that rototilling area lakes harms a native mussels species.

Led by Mayor Victor Cumming, the city expressed extreme disappointment in a letter from Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development assistant regional executive director Ted Zimmerman said the ministry is “aware that the growth and densification of invasive milfoil may pose a risk to the Rocky Mountain ridge mussel (RMRM) through habitat change, as does the the activity of controlling milfoil through rototilling the substrate (the surface or material on or from which an organism lives, grows, or obtains its nourishment).”

“The response is based on weak science at best,” said Cumming. The Okanagan Basin Water Board are experts in this field. They are very clear in favour of these mussels being here in the long-term. In the short-term, there’s no evidence whatsoever that preventing rototilling is going to improve the situation or improve the mussels.

“What it does, for sure, is it decreases the use of that area because the milfoil then mats.”

The city has provided support to OBWB for the continuation of the milfoil de-rooting program, and the province gave its blessing for milfoil control to OBWB in April with both harvesting and rototilling being permitted. The only restriction is using rototilling in areas where the ministry says it knows RMRM live. Harvesting is allowed but the ministry’s ongoing concern is reducing the areas where rototilling is an authorized practice where the RMRM populations have been c

The RMRM is a species listed as Special Concern under the federal Species at Risk Act,” wrote Zimmerman. “It is

currently under review at the federal level for designation as Endangered. This status requires adequate protection of the habitat in order to maintain viable, self-sustaining RMRM populations throughout the current distribution and range of this species. The province, along with the residents of British Columbia, have a responsibility to manage for this species.

“Balancing this requirement against the need to support tourism and local economies that rely on recreational use of Okanagan Lake is a challenge.”

Cumming said the ministry’s letter skirts around the issue of rototilling.

“The areas they do rototilling in is a very, very small portion of foreshore around the lake, and there’s lots of those mussels in other areas of the lake,” he said.

Coun. Brian Quiring motioned to send a response, saying there’s a “lack of any clear defence prohibiting rototilling.”

“We are looking for science-based evidence,” he said. “In fact, the evidence seems to exist that flies in the face of what they’re accusing the rototilling of doing.”

Quiring’s motion was unanimously supported by council.

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