by: MERRY MACKINNON - Volunteer Destiny Morrison wades into the Westmoreland Park duck pond carrying a bucket for collecting Oregon Floaters from other volunteers - such as retired fish biologist Al Smith, who uses a metal cage attached to a pole to dredge for mussels.Hundreds of native mussels – called Oregon Floaters – have been rescued from the soon-to-be-drained Westmoreland Park duck pond. The rescue effort, previewed recently in THE BEE, took place on July 7th and 8th, and is part of an Xerces Society and City of Portland study on the impact of Crystal Springs Creek restoration on native mussels.

With the help of over a dozen volunteers the dredging, tagging, and relocating of the mussels upstream also took place on those days, but the Xerces Society’s Aquatic Program Director Celeste Mazzacano said that so many native mussels were found living in Westmoreland Park’s duck pond that there wasn’t enough time to save most of them.

To Mazzacano’s surprise, the duck pond was home to a large bed of native Oregon Floaters. Gauging by their hefty size, some of the floaters removed from the pond were as old as ten years. Smaller ones were barely a year old, indicating that a healthy bed of Oregon native mussels had been thriving in the duck pond, which is now being removed to restore the original Crystal Springs Creek – to benefit migrating salmon and trout, and reduce duck and geese waste on the grass in the north end of the park.

“This is the highest concentration of Oregon Floaters I’ve ever seen – so conditions must have been good here,” observed retired fish biologist Al Smith, who is helping with the study, and was dredging along with other volunteers. “Mussels are reproducing here.”

Those mussels left behind will likely die after the pond is drained.

Holding a metal dredging cage attached to a pole, volunteer Bonnie Morrison of Reed neighborhood and her daughter Destiny, buckets in hand, repeatedly waded into the nippy water. “It's cold, and you sink,” Destiny remarked.

Most times, when the mother and daughter walked back out of the pond, they carried a trove of the mollusks.

On average, for every fifteen Oregon Floaters dredged out of the pond’s mucky bottom, one Asian clam was found. Asian clams are invasive mollusks that compete with native mussels for habitat.

According to Xerces Society Aquatic Program Conservation Associate Michele Blackburn, that's not a bad ratio, considering that farther downstream clusters of invasive Asian clams can be clearly seen blanketing the bottom of Crystal Springs Creek. Other captured species found during the project included crawdads and a fist-sized snail. Dredgers threw the crawdads and Asian clams back, but the floaters, as well as the snail, were gently placed in plastic containers of water for relocation.

While volunteers on the shore glued little numbered tags onto the mussels’ shells, upstream next to Westmoreland Union Manor, Mazzacano stood waist-deep in Crystal Springs Creek, reaching down into the flowing waters to release the now-tagged mussels.

“We’re not going to be able to get them all,” she said as she climbed up the embankment and rushed off to get more buckets full of mussels. “We could do this for another week!” But the work of restoring the creek, by the Army Corps of Engineers, could not wait.

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