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Volunteers Rescue Hundreds of Mussels

mussel relocation posted on Tuesday, October 3, 2017 in  College News

By Kristin Guess, Courier Staff Writer

WATERLOO—Pam Wolter and about 40 volunteers across the Cedar Valley spent a majority of their weekend saving thousands of mussels on the shores of the Cedar River.

“If we were not here today saving these mussels, they would have all perished,” Wolter said.

With last week’s deflation of the bladder dam, which is just downstream from the Park Avenue bridge, river levels were reduced about 4 feet in the six-mile stretch between Cedar Falls and Waterloo, leaving the slower-moving aquatic life high and dry.

“We just scattered everywhere, to hit the most area in the shortest amount of time,” said volunteer Nick Pedersen.

The bladder dam became fully operational in 2012, and it raises and lowers the river’s elevation each year.

In 2014, a longtime Cedar River fisherman, Dennis Wendel, brought the situation to light.

“Dennis said, ‘Somebody ought to do something, there’s a thousand dead mussels on the sandbars from the bladder drying,’” Wolter explained.

Wolter, who uses the river recreationally and as a conservationist, agreed and helped organize a mussel rescue the next fall. Wendell passed away in 2015, and Wolter, along with seven volunteers, saved 1,004 mussels that year.

They call it the Dennis Wendel Mussel Move project.

“We want to keep really embracing him as someone who created the awareness,” Wolter said.

Now, along with members of Wendel’s family, Cedar Valley Paddlers, Cedar Valley Walleye Club, Department of Natural Resources and other mussel enthusiasts and biologists from across the state, Wolter is hoping to keep raising awareness and the number of volunteers each year.

On Friday, Wolter stood over about 100 different colored mussels on the shore of the Cedar River.

The gathering had taken her 45 minutes and included species such as the Fragile Papershell, Plain Pocketbook and Pimplebacks.

“The Pimplebacks are common in other areas, but that Black Sandshell, that’s pretty special that we’re finding that, but they’re all special,” she said.

Wolter was thrilled not only to save the river wildlife but to discover some rare species she had not anticipated.

“We thought we thought we had five species. Come to find out we have 11, so we’re so excited,” she said. “Especially since the Cedar River isn’t what you call the most pristine of waters.”

After the group collects the clams, they count them and identify the species by studying the number of rings on the shell and the color. This year, rare species found include the Fat Mucket, White Heelsplitter, Wabash Pigtoe and Pink Papershell.

Pedersen, who is Wendel’s nephew, picked 358 stranded mussels, “put them in a bag and paddled them to deeper water and released them one at a time very gently.”

“We’re on a race against them drying out but also against the birds and predators,” he said.

Pedersen and Wolter both noted the significance of the mussels’ role in the ecosystem.

“They filter between 10 and 34 gallons of water every 24 hours,” she said. “They bring water in and push cleaner water out.”

Sediment, according to Wolter, along with flooding and overnight operations, are the main threats for mussels.

“70 percent of the 300 species of mussels across the United States are imperiled, threatened, going extinct, becoming endangered, and people don’t realize it. They think they all look the same, but, no, some are more common than others,” she said.

Pedersen and Wolter said next year they hope to see more participants as well as a slower lowering of the dam to give the mussels time to get to deeper water. The two also participate in several organized river cleanups as well as do their part to clean trash when they see it.

“You’re picking up something that someone else has left. You’re instilling that difference in your family to always be someone who is making a difference. You don’t always get permission, you just go do it,” she said. “We’re making a difference.”

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

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  1. natural resources management