mussel survey
Pesticide runoff. Warm water. Paved stream banks. Channel straightening. Disconnection from floodplains.  Water withdrawals. Pet wastes. These are conditions that commonly plague streams and creeks as a result of urbanization, and freshwater-dependent animals have spent decades paying the price. The federal Clean Water Act encourages communities to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters. But projects that may greatly improve stream conditions down the road, such as re-braiding a straightened channel or removing a culvert, often require dewatering and in-stream work that is lethal to some animals in the short term. Fish are routinely rescued and relocated from reaches where work will be done and other mobile creatures can flee -- but what about animals that can't?

Xerces staff recently worked with local volunteers to rescue over 750 native floater mussels (Anodonta) from Crystal Springs Creek, a small stream in southeast Portland, Oregon, that provides important habitat for federally endangered salmon and trout. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and City of Portland planned to restore a long section of the creek by replacing a concrete-lined duck pond with a meandering channel. They knew native mussels lived in the creek and pond but lacked the expertise to conduct a rescue, so turned to Xerces for help. We worked with the Crystal Springs Creek Community Partnership to organize two days of mussel rescue. The mussels were collected, measured (to estimate age), and moved to a previously restored reach immediately upstream. Each mussel also had a numbered tag glued to its shell; next year, we will conduct surveys for these tagged mussels to see whether they have thrived in their new home and whether any have re-colonized the restored reach.

It was a winning situation for everyone: federal, city, and local agencies and organizations helped protect a threatened native species; volunteers learned about freshwater mussels; and Xerces furthered its mission of conservation and outreach while conducting research that will help inform current protocols for mussel relocation. As for the mussels, they are the biggest winners of all. Rescued from certain death, they will continue their lives nestled in the cool sediments of Crystal Springs Creek, quietly improving water quality and providing habitat for the aquatic invertebrates the creek's endangered fish rely on for food.

For more information about freshwater mussels:

Dennis Paulson's eastern and western dragonfly field guides are both available in our store.

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Check out our events web page for details on Xerces events in the following cities:

  - Kingston, RI
  - Verona, VA
  - Wytheville, VA
  - Petaluma, CA
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  - Newton, MS
Visit our pesticide web page for information on pesticides and  invertebrates, including our report, Ecologically Sound Mosquito Management in Wetlands.

Photo Credit: Volunteers relocate freshwater mussels in Crystal Springs Creek as Xerces' Michele Blackburn keeps a record of the work. Photo by Dick Dewey.

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