By Matt Grimley
Waterways are sometimes disturbed by humans, and mussels are often the first to feel the pain. Thankfully, conservationists are working to repair native Appalachian populations of the bivalve.
In West Virginia, the state Division of Natural Resources is using fish to restore pollution-damaged populations of pink heelsplitter mussels, and they’ve found an unusual way of doing so.
DNR employees first snorkel to the river bottoms, capturing any mussels that have bred. Then, using a hypodermic needle, they flush the mussel larvae from the bivalve out into a holding tank, where fish swim around and become inoculated with the young mollusks. When they mature, the larvae drop off the fish’s gills to the bottom of the tank, from whence they’ll be whisked back to the river bottom.
The mussel restoration efforts in West Virginia were needed in light of chemical spills on the Ohio River in 1999 and Dunkard Creek in 2009. Though both were devastating, in particular the 1999 spill from the Eramet Marietta metal plant was estimated to have killed 990,000 mussels along 30 miles of the river.
In North Carolina, Duke Energy scientist Hugh Barwick was recently named Regional Recovery Champion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for his work with mussels and other aquatic species on the Tuckasegee River. Working around the Dillsboro Dam’s demolition, Barwick and others transported Appalachian elktoe freshwater mussels upstream, and since the dam’s removal, monitoring has revealed the mussels’ revival.
A 2,036 acre parcel of land in the mountains of northeastern Tennessee is slated to be the Volunteer State’s newest state park. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation acquired the land this July, and the property is part of the 10,000-acre Rocky Fork tract, formerly private land that federal, state and private conservation interests have purchased during the past five years.
The new addition will be Tennessee’s 55th state park and so far more than $1 million has been set aside to improve the new purchase. While the goal is to keep the development as minimal as possible, when completed there will be a welcome center, roads, trails and a campground.
The Rocky Fork tract is home to native trout, salamanders and peregrine falcons. It is also a significant breeding ground for black bears and protects the headwaters of Rocky Fork Creek, a blue-ribbon trout stream. This area bridges two national forests, the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina, and was one of the largest unbroken private tracts of land remaining in the eastern U.S. Starting in 2008, the Rocky Fork tract was gradually purchased by partners such as the U.S. Forest Service, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, The Conservation Fund and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
Snake fungal disease, occasionally reported before 2006, has recently increased to a range of nine states, including Ohio and Tennessee. It is currently suspected that it is more widespread.
The symptoms of snake fungal disease include scabs or crusty scales, separation of skin layers, and white cloudiness of the eyes. It is not known how the disease will affect the populations of different species of wild snakes yet, but in New Hampshire, symptoms consistent with snake fungal disease were associated with a 50 percent decline of a timber rattlesnake population from 2006 to 2007.
Conservation agencies and natural resource managers are encouraged to contact the National Wildlife Health Center if snakes with symptoms consistent with this disease are encountered.
he final count for West Virginia’s annual highway spring cleaning event is in. Nearly 14,000 volunteers in West Virginia collected 474,250 pounds of trash in the spring as part of the Adopt-A-Highway program. This year the program was sponsored by West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection’s Rehabilitation Environmental Action Plan.