HARRISBURG, Pa. (December 18) – The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) is pleased to announce that a conservation partnership, of which it is a member, has been awarded a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Chesapeake Watershed Investment for Landscape Defense (ChesWILD) grantOpens In A New Window to restore freshwater mussels to the West Branch Susquehanna River (West Branch).
The grant was awarded to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC). They and the project partners will take a comprehensive approach to mussel and river restoration through research, education, and community outreach. In addition to WPC and PFBC, partners include the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania at Lock Haven, and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.
Eastern Lampmussels collected from the West Branch Susquehanna River
“Freshwater mussel communities are absolutely essential to healthy rivers and streams, and these restoration efforts are critical,” said Nevin Welte, Pennsylvania’s State Malacologist. “This project is an incredible opportunity to make a difference in the West Branch Susquehanna River, with each partner bringing a unique expertise to the table.”
Freshwater mussels provide multiple benefits to their surrounding ecosystems but are among the most imperiled groups of native animals in North America. A single mussel can filter up to three gallons of water per day, which is significant to water quality considering tens of thousands of mussels can live in a single mile of river. Mussels are also an important food source for native fish and other animals including muskrats, otters, and racoons. Unfortunately, freshwater mussel populations continue to decline due to habitat loss, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species. Of the 53 species of freshwater mussels that remain in Pennsylvania, eleven are listed as Threatened or Endangered.
Historically, the West Branch watershed contained a thriving mussel community before the introduction of pollution associated with extensive coal mining and logging from the early 1800s through the early 1900s. Due to enhanced regulation of these industries and conservation efforts by natural resources agencies and their partners, great strides have been made in treating legacy sources of pollution. Improved water quality in portions of the watershed now supports recreational angling for fish species including Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, and Channel Catfish, which was unheard of as little as 40 years ago.
Beginning in 2024, the ChesWILD grant study will focus on freshwater mussel restoration upstream of the low head dam in the City of Lock Haven, Clinton County. While mussels are plentiful in the lower West Branch from Lock Haven to the river’s confluence with the Susquehanna River, they are absent upstream of the dam. As a barrier to fish passage, the dam prevents natural mussel restoration, which occurs when larval mussels attach themselves to a fish host to disperse and complete their unique life cycle. For this project, the team will collect mussels to serve as broodstock for hatchery operations using DNR’s mobile mussel propagation trailer. This project is a component of a larger investment in mussel restoration DNR is undertaking in the watershed.
Low Head Dam located near Lock Haven, Clinton County, Pa.
“We are incredibly excited to be awarded this grant and to collaborate with these organizations to begin working to restore freshwater mussel populations in the Susquehanna River basin,” said Zach Taylor, freshwater mussel propagation biologist with the Maryland DNR. “This funding will allow thousands of individuals to be cultured, stocked, and monitored over the next three years in hopes of restoring this component of the aquatic community.”
The public can assist with the project by participating in a mussel tagging event during one of the environmental education days to be held at Commonwealth University of Pennsylvania’s Lock Haven campus. There will also be hands-on opportunities for local conservation organizations and schools to participate in mussel-focused classroom programs. Details on these opportunities are currently in development and will be announced at a later date.