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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

Close Encounters with Living Rocks

Region 3, September 29, 2011
Jill Utrup and Randy Piette search for native mussels in the Red River, Shawano County, Wisconsin.
Jill Utrup and Randy Piette search for native mussels in the Red River, Shawano County, Wisconsin. - Photo Credit: n/a
Randy Piette shows off a healthy native mussel found while conducting annual mussel surveys coordinated by the WDNR and FWS.
Randy Piette shows off a healthy native mussel found while conducting annual mussel surveys coordinated by the WDNR and FWS. - Photo Credit: n/a

This past August, Nick Utrup, Jill Utrup and Jessica Kempke of the Wisconsin Ecological Services Office assisted Randy Piette, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, with native mussel surveys below a hydroelectric dam on the Red River in Shawano County, Wisconsin. Jessica works as a STEP Student (Student Temporary Employment Program) and is currently enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay.

 

The purpose of this close encounter with what have been described as “living rocks” was to document the distribution and habitat requirements of freshwater mussels within the vicinity of a federally licensed hydroelectric dam. Numerous dams have been built on many rivers throughout North America. Whether for hydropower, recreation or navigation, dams are a physical barrier, which is a major threat to mussels. Part of the life cycle of young mussels includes attaching to the gills of a specific type of fish. These young mussels, which are actually larvae, are carried by the fish to different reaches of the river. Eventually the larval mussel drops off the gills, lands on the bottom, and if it's a suitable area, the mussel continues to grow. If the habitat is disturbed or altered because of a dam, the mussels may be unable to survive and grow. Because dams are a barrier to fish, dams also prevent mussels in the upstream portion from moving to the downstream portion, and vice versa.

This mussel survey was required as part of the relicensing process for two hydroelectric dams near Gresham, Wisconsin. Results from this survey will help guide the development of more environmentally friendly hydropower operations on this river. For more information on native mussels, conservation measures and survey protocols, please refer to the following Wisconsin DNR website: http://dnr.wi.gov/org/gmu/mississippi/mussels.htm

Contact Info: Jessica Kempke, (920)866-1717, jessica_kempke@fws.gov