Freshwater Mussels Declining Throughout The Northwest

Biologist Jordan Richard pulls a freshwater mussel off the bottom of the Clinch River to see if it's alive. Hundreds of thousands of mussels have perished in the ongoing die-off. CREDIT: Nathan Rott/NPR
The decline of freshwater mussels could have a negative impact of waterways throughout the West CREDIT: Nathan Rott/NPR

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Courtney Flatt reports on the decline of freshwater mussels in the West and the potential environmental impact / Runtime – 0:50 

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The Northwest’s freshwater mussels are in trouble. Almost every population biologists study is declining. Freshwater mussels are critical to habitat where they live. Freshwater mussels clean rivers and streams. Tribes also use freshwater mussel shells to make jewelry and ornamentation. Historically, tribes also boiled and dried freshwater mussels to eat over winter.

Alexa Maine studies freshwater mussels for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. She says the decline of freshwater mussels shows there’s something very wrong with the environment. Mussels face numerous challenges, including warm waters caused by climate change, too many non-native fish species, and habitat loss.

Maine: “Mussels are now screaming, saying, ‘Help us do something, there’s something going on.’”

The U-S Fish and Wildlife Service is studying the western ridged mussel, one of a handful of freshwater mussel species in the Northwest. After a closer inspection of western ridged mussels, officials might consider adding it to the Endangered Species List.

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