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Wild, Scenic, and One of the Last Strongholds of a Rare Mussel
by Brett Hillman
Photo Credit: Tom Cameron
"They're just such wonderful rivers," said Sally Rieger, her passion for Connecticut's Farmington River and Salmon Brook apparent as she spoke about the many unique values of these pristine waters. "There are so many amazing resources, both biological and cultural. The diversity of wildlife is astounding."
Rieger is the chair of a committee working on a study to demonstrate why the Lower Farmington River and the Salmon Brook should be designated as Wild and Scenic Rivers. If this happens, it will be a major step in the recovery of one of the world's most imperiled species of freshwater mussels.
The Lower Farmington River is home to one of the last remaining healthy populations of the federally endangered dwarf wedgemussel (Alasmidonta heterodon). Thanks in large part to the excellent water quality of the Farmington, this tiny freshwater mussel has managed to maintain a stronghold here, particularly in the stretch between the towns of Avon and Simsbury.
Once the Lower Farmington and Salmon Brook Wild and Scenic Study Committee has completed its work, a report will be sent to Congress, which will ultimately decide on whether or not these river systems are worthy of the prestigious Wild and Scenic designation.
"I'm optimistic that Congress will determine these river systems to be both eligible and suitable for designation, and I believe they will make a decision sometime this year, said Joyce Kennedy Raymes, a National Park Service employee who is coordinating the study.
Designation as Wild and Scenic Rivers would mean that the Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook will forever be protected from federal projects that could jeopardize their health or free-flowing nature, such as dams and diversions. The addition of these rivers to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System will come with a few more perks as well.
Photo Credit: USFWS
"It will bring attention and prestige, not to mention funding from the National Park Service," said Rieger. "Funding can be used for projects that will benefit the dwarf wedgemussel, such as work to restore stream banks and plant streamside buffers."
For a river to be added to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, it must be free-flowing, or undammed, although dammed sections can be excluded from the designation. In addition, it must exhibit at least one so-called Outstandingly Remarkable Value, or ORV, of which these two Connecticut rivers have an ample supply, including the presence of the dwarf wedgemussel. In fact, the Farmington River is the only watercourse known to support all twelve species of freshwater mussels native to southern New England.
In addition to the presence of ORVs, there must be a high degree of demonstrated local support for a Wild and Scenic designation. This requires a great deal of cooperation among individuals, communities, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.
Support and cooperation was clearly evident in the creation of a management plan for the rivers. This non-regulatory, advisory document was developed with the goal of protecting and enhancing the many ORVs that the Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook possess. Regardless of whether or not these rivers are designated as Wild and Scenic, the many stakeholders involved in drafting the management plan, including local, state, and federal government agencies, nonprofits, local businesses, and community members, will use it to guide future conservation planning.
"We want to keep the momentum going!" said Raymes. "We will identify low labor, low cost projects that we can start right away, even without additional funding. One such project might be a long-term mussel monitoring program that will help us keep an eye on the health of our mussels, including the dwarf wedgemussel."
The addition of the Lower Farmington River and Salmon Brook to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System would be a huge victory for the imperiled dwarf wedgemussel. While these "living rocks" may not be the flashiest of our endangered species, they perform critical functions and deserve the chance to recover. The presence of this species is just one of many characteristics that make these rivers so special and so deserving of protection.
Brett Hillman, a biological science technician in the Service's New England Field Office in Concord, N.H., can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-223-2541.
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