Tag Archives: transportation

Pa. mussels help restore streams in Ill., Ohio and WV

We love freshwater mussels so much that we extended our month-long series to tell you about work to restore and protect freshwater mussels and their homes in Pennsylvania. Today you’re hearing from Lora Zimmerman, the assistant supervisor of Contaminants and Conservation Planning Assistance in our Pennsylvania office. This series highlights the importance of freshwater mussels to the Northeast landscape and the concerted efforts underway to ensure their future in our waters.

Pennsylvania is known for a lot of things—spectacular trout fishing, abundant energy resources, intensely rivaled hockey teams—but one of the lesser known treasures of Pennsylvania is its native freshwater mussels.

Species almost lost elsewhere are known from the Allegheny River and French Creek in western Pennsylvania, and they are the envy of several neighboring states where the mussels have either been lost or populations are too small to survive without assistance. For example, although it remains in only five percent of its historical range, the northern riffleshell continues to have thriving populations in Pennsylvania. Likewise, the clubshell mussel also has stronghold populations in the Commonwealth.

Clubshell mussel. Credit: USFWS

Clubshell mussel. Credit: USFWS

On a related, and potentially challenging note, a lot of Pennsylvania’s highway infrastructure is aging and in need of upgrade or replacement. So what happens when a bridge spanning a massive mussel bed with hundreds of thousands of endangered individuals needs to be replaced? This question had the Fish and Wildlife Service and partner agencies scratching their heads. The solution, as it turns out, may help move clubshell and northern riffleshell towards recovery.

After working with project planners and engineers to minimize potential adverse effects, the Service and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation determined that it was not feasible to replace the Hunter Station Bridge in Forest County, Pennsylvania, and simultaneously avoid all impacts to listed species in the project area. We started brainstorming ways to mitigate, or make up, for those impacts.

A clean river, the Allegheny bottom is rocky with stands of eelgrass. Credit: Kristen Lundh/USFWS

A clean river, the Allegheny bottom is rocky with stands of eelgrass. Credit: Kristen Lundh/USFWS

An analysis of the Allegheny populations of northern riffleshell and clubshell indicated that removal of some of the individuals living under the bridge would not result in a loss of population viability, so we put out a call to our mussel conservation partners.

As part of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s formal recovery plan for northern riffleshell and clubshell, biologists have worked to reestablish healthy populations of both species within the historical ranges of the species. Doing so required addressing historical water quality issues in the Vermilion and Salt Fork River in Illinois; Big Darby Creek, Ohio; and Elk Creek, West Virginia, that are responsible for the decline or extirpation of northern riffleshell from their waters.

In addition, successful pilot studies in previous years with relocated mussels indicate that the cleanup efforts have been successful. As such, the Service found these locations ideal for transplanting some of Allegheny’s endangered mussels that may otherwise be lost due to the bridge replacement.

On August 23 this year, staff from the Columbus Zoo Freshwater Mussel Conservation and Research Center, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois Natural History Survey, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania Boat and Fish Commission and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources assisted with collecting and relocating mussels from the Hunter Station bridge.

Divers sort mussels collected in the Allegheny River under the Hunter Station bridge. Credit: Jim Carroll/PennDOT

Divers sort mussels collected in the Allegheny River under the Hunter Station bridge. Credit: Jim Carroll/PennDOT

All told, the collection and relocation effort moved more than a thousand mussels from Hunter Station to their new homes in Illinois, Ohio and West Virginia. Although future monitoring is needed to determine the long term success of the translocation, reestablishing northern riffleshell in these states would go a long way towards accomplishing recovery goals for the species as a whole.

Translocation is not the solution for every endangered species conflict, but this project demonstrates that in some situations, it can be a successful tool for conservation and recovery.

And who knows, once the word gets out that that western Pennsylvania hosts such a unique resource, folks in Pittsburgh will demand that the Penguins be renamed something more locally appropriate (not to mention intimidating), like … the Clubshells … and then again, maybe they won’t.

More:

Clubs, riffles and rays of New York

This post is part of a series running all month on freshwater mussels, highlighting their importance to the Northeast landscape and the concerted efforts underway to ensure their future in our waters.

The Allegheny River basin holds globally significant populations of four species of mussels federally listed as endangered. They are northern riffleshell (Epioblasma torulosa rangiana), clubshell (Pleurobema clava), rayed bean (Villosa fabalis) and snuffbox (Epioblasma triquetra).

Surveys in the upper Allegheny River basin in New York and Pennsylvania have found populations of these species in the past, but portions of the mainstem Allegheny River and its tributaries remain un-surveyed or have incomplete surveys — an obstacle to truly achieving recovery.

Diver looking for riffleshell and clubshell mussels. Credit: Jeremy Tiemann Il/Natural History Survey

Diver looking for riffleshell and clubshell mussels. Credit: Jeremy Tiemann Il/Natural History Survey

The Service’s New York Field Office has recovery responsibility for at least two of the mussel species; the clubshell and rayed bean. Clubshell prefers clean, loose sand and gravel found in small rivers and streams (riffles). The rayed bean also prefers this habitat but is found among aquatic vegetation. 

In the upper Allegheny basin, mussel populations are threatened by poor water quality and loss of habitat. Activities that threaten mussels and their habitat include mining and channelization of streams, erosion of streambanks, pollutants, roads, pipelines and water withdrawals. 

Conservation measures can minimize impacts to mussels and sustainable land use practices can improve mussel habitat. Examples include maintaining stream buffers and minimizing erosion and sedimentation rates by using erosion control methods during construction.  

Endangered clubshell mussel. Credit: Craig Stihler/USFWS

Endangered clubshell mussel. Credit: Craig Stihler/USFWS

Recovery actions include conducting presence/absence surveys to assess abundance and identifying and  prioritizing certain streams for restoration and protection.  The field office is partnering with the Western Pennsylvania Land Conservancy to conduct surveys in streams that provide suitable habitat for these species. 

The surveys will be conducted in 2013. Stay tuned!

Submitted by Sandra Doran in the Service’s New York Field Office.

Moving mussels

Cheryl Daigle from the Penobscot River Restoration Trust.

Today you’re hearing from Cheryl Daigle at the Penobscot River Restoration Trust.

Working on a river restoration project that is focused on restoring 11 species of sea-run fish — including the enigmatic shortnose sturgeon and leaping wonder of salmon — offers many fascinating moments of discovery about rivers, community, and restoration of place.

Yet, I never imagined freshwater mussels would invite the depths of thought I had while helping to relocate exposed mussels to deeper habitat during the removal of the Great Works Dam and subsequent lowering of the impoundment to a natural river flow.

Holding a freshwater mussel. Credit: Cheryl Daigle/Trust

Holding a freshwater mussel. Credit: Cheryl Daigle/Trust

Mussels move. They leave trails in the sediment that are intriguing, leaving one to wonder where they thought they were heading and why. Was the water six feet over more palatable than the water here by my feet? Why did the mussel move closer to shore as the water levels dropped and warmed at the edge, rather than to deeper, slightly cooler water?

Mussels also squeak when maneuvered out of a tight spot in the mud or between crevices of rock, and spit at you. In spite of years of scientific training and contemplating wildlife and water for management purposes, it was at times difficult not to anthropomorphize the mussel behavior and wonder about their lack of a brain.

Looking for freshwater mussels. Credit: Cheryl Daigle/Trust

Looking for freshwater mussels. Credit: Cheryl Daigle/Trust

The search to save mussels
Over several weeks, dozens of volunteers joined us along the shoreline. In part, we were supporting a team of biologists under contract to find rare mussels such as the yellow lampmussel and the tidewater mucket.

Spotting a yellow lampmussel was like finding a gold coin, and it seemed to give some volunteers more prestige among the group if they found several among the many, many thousands of the more common elliptios that lined the shore. Mostly we were there to save the elliptios – move as many as we could to deeper water habitat, not because of permitting requirements, but more simply out of respect for life, even knowing of course we could not save them all, and that changing an impoundment back to a river could only support so many mussels.

Still dedicated to looking for those mussels! Credit: Cheryl Daigle/Trust

Still dedicated to looking for those mussels! Credit: Cheryl Daigle/Trust

It just seemed right, and it brought people together as community, doing something for the river that was tangible and could be held in the hand and not simply in the mind or on paper.

I was relieved to find I was not the only one who started talking to the mussels that I moved. Maybe it was the sun and long hours, maybe it was just that inherent desire to feel connected to other life, even that with shells (think E.O Wilson and his biophilia hypothesis). In the evening when I shut my eyes to go to sleep, I would see mussels protruding out of the sediment with siphons filtering and releasing water.

Freshwater mussel under water. Credit: Cheryl Daigle/Trust

Freshwater mussel under water. Credit: Cheryl Daigle/Trust

Musing on mussels
On a day after I had gone out many days, and spent more hours than planned moving mussels, because it was hard to leave, and after finding mussels that were still alive after being exposed for several days and that I thought were dead but still squeaked with an expulsion of air when I touched them, I found myself wondering about the persistence of life – the way even these shelled creatures without a brain kept clinging to survival, and what I see as a mysterious force that weaves through all living creatures, brainless or not.

Being so close to dam removal in action, my methodical and meditative search for mussels often brought thoughts of my father, who would have loved to have witnessed the changes happening at Great Works. He would have found a way to be here alongside me and our volunteers, and I can imagine his own meanderings of thought while gathering mussels into buckets or tossing them into deeper water. Before he died, he spoke about life and what it meant to be alive – he said it was like the ripple that forms when something touches upon the surface of water, it keeps spreading out, and the ripple gets smaller as it gets larger, but then at its end it might send up the slightest breath of air that touches upon a length of grass, and perhaps there is a butterfly on the tip of that grass that is then sent aloft by its movement, and it goes on and on. He said that our small actions in life are like that, sending out ripples, and you never know what might be influenced by each small act.

From mussels to my dying father to butterflies and the ripplings of life, while crouched in sediment exposed by the removal of a dam – who knew the common mussel could send one into such philosophical wanderings?

Beautiful shoreline of the Penobscot River. Credit: Cheryl Daigle/Trust

Beautiful shoreline of the Penobscot River. Credit: Cheryl Daigle/Trust

It is hard to know what moving mussels accomplished from an ecological perspective, although we will seek some answers as we monitor the relocated yellow lampmussels. But the act of mussel relocation, and that bringing together of people, made me feel a closer connection to the river and its inhabitants, and deepened my respect for the value of restoring this place and all that is meant to live here.

Follow the Trust on Facebook, and see more great photos from them on their Flickr page.

Read more from the freshwater mussel series!