River Conservationists Stoked For Mussel Prospects In Eugene Area

Dec 6, 2018

A research project on mussels in the Willamette River has wrapped up. As KLCC’s Brian Bull reports, the head of a conservation group is delighted about its findings.

Western Pearlshells on the river bed.
Credit Travis Williams / Willamette Riverkeeper

Standing on the footbridge near Valley River Center in Eugene, Travis Williams, Executive Director of Willamette Riverkeeper, points west.

Travis Williams indicates two islands on the Willamette River where he and volunteers examined mussel beds earlier this summer.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“So right now we’re overlooking two islands that have a host of freshwater mussels called Western Pearlshell, or the scientific name is Margaritfera falcata…” 

This past August, Williams and volunteers did an extensive survey. It followed one carried out about 30 miles north of here, where a massive mussel bed of 40,000 mussels was found to be largely non-reproductive. Here though, were better signs…

Volunteers for Willamette Riverkeeper study mussels in the river.
Credit Travis Williams / Willamette Riverkeeper

“Based on all our counting, we believe there is a viable mussel population in this area," Williams tells KLCC.

Close-up of a Western Pearlshell mussel.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

"It may not be reproducing at its height. But we do believe it’s reproducing which is really cool.”

Williams says the finding’s a big deal because mussels are an indicator of how healthy a river is. The bivalves can also live to be more than a century old.

“The other thing we fond is a mussel…the first ever for the Willamette main stem…called the Western Ridged Mussel," says Williams. 

"We found one toward the tip of that island.  And it was the first ever for the Willamette.

"For people who’ve worked around freshwater mussels in the western United States, those mussels are imperiled. They’re on a significant decline, there’s never been one found in the Willamette system.  And we were really happy to find that Western Ridged Mussel right here, in Eugene.”

Williams says the mussels’ presence makes the case for keeping herbicides and other pollutants out of the river.

Copyright 2018, KLCC.