Tag Archives: Missisquoi

Wednesday Wisdom – Walt Disney

When you wish upon a… rainbow? One of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights recently appeared above the headquarters at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge in Vermont and offered the perfect backdrop for this week’s quote from one of the world’s greatest dreamers.

Original image by Ken Sturm/USFWS

Original image by Ken Sturm/USFWS

Vermont wetlands receive international recognition

This week, we’re going international! Well, kind of. One of our refuges has been designated a “Wetland of International Importance” under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands!

The designation is the first in Vermont, encompasses 7,665 acres, and includes the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department’s Maquam, Carmen’s Marsh and Rock River Wildlife Management Areas.

cranberry pool

The Cranberry wetland management unit at the refuge. Credit: Ken Sturm/USFWS

So what does it all mean? The Ramsar Convention is a 40 year old intergovernmental treaty, signed on by over 160 countries, to promote voluntary international cooperation for wetland and waterfowl conservation. The Convention’s mission centers on the wise use and conservation of wetlands around the globe focusing on local and national action and international cooperation.

If you’re still wondering why this is a big deal, keep reading. The site is the largest wetland complex in the Lake Champlain Basin, which is considered a resource of national significance. It contains the largest contiguous floodplain forest in Vermont and unique habitat types such as the Maquam Bog. It is important for many state rare and threatened or endangered species such as the eastern spiny softshell turtle, seven species of mussel and the lake sturgeon.

Learn more about the Missisquoi Delta and Bay Wetlands

The site supports over 200 species of birds and is a breeding area for numerous species of waterfowl, passerines, raptors and wading birds. It is also the only known breeding site for black terns in Vermont. As the site is located along the Atlantic Flyway, populations of waterfowl often reach 20,000 birds in the autumn! The Missisquoi Delta and Bay Wetlands are also essential for numerous fish species that use the site as feeding, spawning and nursery grounds. The site is one of the few remaining spawning grounds of the state endangered lake sturgeon.


A black tern at Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Ken Sturm/USFWS

And we’re joining some pretty good company. There are currently 35 other designated sites in the U.S. and over 2,000 around the world. The Missisquoi Delta and Bay Wetlands join the ranks of other important wetland areas such as the Everglades and San Francisco Bay with this designation. Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge is the twentieth national wildlife refuge to be designated under the Ramsar Convention.

Congratulations to Vermont!

A growing appreciation for freshwater mussels

Brett Hillman

Today you’re hearing from Brett Hillman, a biological science technician for the Service’s New England Field Office, as he recounts his work with freshwater mussels at the Service’s Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge in Vermont. Brett assists the endangered species biologists and has the great pleasure of working with a wide variety of wildlife.

Before I began my job in the New England Field Office, I will admit that I didn’t have a great appreciation for mussels.

I knew that they were an important component of aquatic ecosystems, but I didn’t understand quite how important. And while I’ve spent countless hours searching for and identifying species of many other taxa, from birds to bugs to plants, mussels never captured my interest. Now that I’m fully immersed in mussel ecology, however, I am definitely gaining some more respect for these underrated invertebrates.

Freshwater mussels are one of the most imperiled taxa in the country. According to Patty Morrison, a mussel expert and biologist at the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, 76 out of the approximately 300 native mussel species in the U.S. are federally listed, six of which have been listed within just the past two years.

Biologists Patty Morrison and Craig Zievis from Ohio River Islands NWR tagging mussels off the Missisquoi River. Credit: Ken Sturm, Missisquoi NWR manager

Biologists Patty Morrison and Craig Zievis from Ohio River Islands NWR tagging mussels off the Missisquoi River. Credit: Ken Sturm, Missisquoi NWR Manager

It’s important that we work to conserve them because of the crucial yet often overlooked services they provide. Individuals can filter several gallons of water per day, and thousands upon thousands of gallons over their lives, removing pollutants and purifying our water bodies in the process. If we started losing our mussel species, you can be sure there would be a noticeable decline in water quality.

And for those who still don’t appreciate mussels for their inherent value, they should at least be appreciated for their names! Mussels have been given some of the goofiest common names out there, including monkeyface, fat pocketbook, heelsplitter, strange floater, and orangefoot pimpleback, to name a few.

In late July, I had the privilege of assisting with a mussel survey and relocation project within the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge in northern Vermont. This work was necessary because a small section of the Missisquoi River required dredging so that a barge could be moved from bank to bank. Since Vermont state-listed mussel species were known to occur in the area, they had to be removed from the project area and relocated before the dredging could begin.

Mussel biologists in action. Credit: Ken Sturm, Missisquoi NWR manager

Mussel biologists in action. Credit: Ken Sturm, Missisquoi NWR Manager

Our intrepid team of biologists, led by Patty Morrison, carefully combed the sediments of the project area, including upstream and downstream buffer zones, which covered just over a fifth of an acre. We had to work slowly and cover the same ground multiple times because the density of mussels was so high in some places and because there were many small, young individuals that were easy to miss.


“The survey team was very diligent in their searching, especially when you consider that they were able to detect mussels as small as 4 mm in length,” Patty said afterwards.

After three days of mussel hunting, we rounded up a whopping 808 individuals representing eight species. Eastern elliptio (Elliptio complanata) was the most abundant species with 522 individuals while eastern lampmussel (Lampsilis radiata), with 234 individuals, was the second most common. Together, these species made up 94 percet of the mussels we encountered. Of special interest were the four Vermont state listed species we found (see table below):

These 49 individuals were tagged and relocated to an underwater “corral” that will be monitored after the dredging project.

I found this to be very, very rewarding work. Although mussels aren’t exactly cute and cuddly animals, it still felt good to help save several hundred of them, including quite a few that are threatened or endangered in the state of Vermont. Unlike most cute and cuddly species, mussels are completely helpless, meaning putting in the man hours to get them out of harm’s way is that much more important. So not only did I gain a greater appreciation for mussels, but I also gained a greater level of respect for those who work hard to protect them.

Check out another blog post by Brett, or his New England Nature Blog, to read more about his work and interests.