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State, Federal-funded Land Helps a Small Mussel
by Ann Haas
Photo Credit: Dan Murphy, USFWS
In a pristine watershed in Maryland – McIntosh Run – state and federal funding to purchase an 81-acre (33-hectare) parcel will help protect the federally endangered dwarf wedgemussel (Alasmidonta heterodon). In fast-growing St. Mary's County in southern Maryland, McIntosh Run has been the focus of protection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Patuxent Tidewater Land Trust, and others.
"We know that this property is home to the dwarf wedgemussel and harbors a range of sensitive species, including state-listed plant species," says Tim Larney of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "We want to evaluate development proposals and work with area communities to ensure that projects do not degrade the environment."
The future of this small freshwater mussel, which measures just one and one-half inches (four centimeters), is challenged by its short life-span, dependence on three particular host fishes, and a small population size. Originally found as far north as New Brunswick, Canada, the dwarf wedgemussel is now limited to just seven states along the Atlantic Coast—from Maine to North Carolina.
Photo Credit: USFWS
The mussel depends on sculpins and darters as host fishes for its larvae, called glochidia, which affix themselves to the gills of the fish and then drop off when they are large enough to survive on their own. Pollution and sedimentation that impair water quality are not suitable for these host fishes, and have contributed to the decline of the mussel. Dams and channelization also prevent these host fishes from reaching mussel larvae. The dwarf wedgemussel was listed as endangered in 1990, following its decline from 70 populations to 20.
Clean, clear water maintained by streamside buffers and wetlands in McIntosh Run provides ideal excellent habitat for one of three populations of the endangered mussel in the Old Line State. Near the Annapolis, the state's capital city, and nearby Washington, D.C., the McIntosh Run area faces development pressure for houses, offices, and shopping malls, threatening the rural lifestyle of farms and forests. Sensitive to environmental changes, freshwater mussels are one of the most endangered groups of species, particularly in their early life stages.
"The McIntosh Run acquisition is important property in a priority focus area, and we look forward to helping to ensure its well-being," says Susan Charkes, Executive Director of the Trust. "Our goal is to preserve and protect as much of the watershed as possible by engaging landowners."
The state matched a Service recovery land acquisition grant of $133,000 with $148,000, enabling the purchase of the parcel to manage as a passive use natural area. The Patuxent Tidewater Land Trust will work with the state to monitor the property.
"This grant has helped protect high-quality forest from development," says Dan Murphy of the Service's Annapolis Field Office. "We're looking forward to continued work with landowners and The Nature Conservancy to protect this remarkable watershed, the dwarf wedgemussel, and all the other wildlife that will benefit from land conservation."
Ann Haas, a program specialist in the Service's Ecological Services Program headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-358-2360.
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