COOK FOREST — The Central Appalachia Habitat Stewardship Program began in 2017 to help restore healthy forests, wetlands, rivers and streams to have habitat that can sustain diverse native species. It has been working in the Clarion River on mussel relocation and a dam removal at Callen Run to promote fish movement around the river.
A project tour was given around the Clarion River on Wednesday to showcase the work that has been done. The trip covered about 45 miles of driving between several stops set up for the day. Each location served its own purpose in contributing to the conservation efforts.
The first stop was in Clear Creek State Park to talk about the mussel relocation project. This has been an ongoing project of the Western PA Conservancy since 2014. When it began its survey of the river for mussels the most densely populated area was right near Clear Creek State Park with 17 of one species. More than half of the 15 sites searched along the river returned no mussels at all. After the surveys, a team was sent to the Allegheny River by Hunter’s Station to collect some common mussel species to reintroduce into the Clarion River. They were tagged, and some were placed into the Clarion River to test survival rate before adding too many in. A year later when the team came back to check, the mussels had a staggering 98 percent survival rate. This gave the team the go ahead to move more mussels into the habitat. It put about 25,000 individual mussels into the Clarion River.
“I used it as a public education event while we were here,” said Eric Chapman, the director of Aquatic Science at Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. He said the team would stop canoeists and campers to explain to them the project the team was working on, and allow them to place a few mussels.
According to Chapman, this system is so important because the upper Allegheny supports two of the best populations of two federally endangered species of mussel. The Club Shell has the highest density population here compared to anywhere else in the world.
He referred to mussels as “the canary in the coal mine” when it comes to the health of an aquatic ecosystem. When there are mussels present, the area has been stable for some time.
“This is the project that I’m going to hang my hat on when I’m retired,” Chapman said of the overall impact.
Dams on Callen Run
The next major focus of the projects was discussed at Callen Run, by the Heath Pump Station. Callen Run is a high-quality coldwater fishery, but it was several dams blocking it. This project is focused on clearing the pathways that are currently constricting aquatic habitat passing. The lower dam has completely blocked fish from passing for more than 100 years. There was a total of three passage barriers in Callen Run. The Upper Dam is on state forest land, and the Lower Dam is located by the fish hatchery.
John’s Run Dam has already been removed from the run. Clarion University conducted surveys of the fish and found 13 species below the Upper Dam, three above it, and only two above the John’s Run Dam.
“We were able to remove that by hand last summer... It took all of one day to remove by hand with lots of volunteer help...” said Kylie Maland, watershed manager for Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
The hopes of the continuation of the project is to eventually remove the other two dams. They have to be able to keep a stable flow of water for the hatchery and the Sigel Volunteer Fire Company fire hydrant located by the Lower Dam. They are currently working on a new location for water intake as a solution to the Lower Dam.
East Branch Spring Creek
Another project being worked on is the Large Woody Materials Replacement/Restoration taking place at East Branch Spring Creek. This location is another high-quality coldwater fishery watershed. This area has an ATV trail that runs next to it. The problem was the streams flow was causing significant erosion to the bank and the trail. The stability of the road was under question, so the staff made the decision to try to stabilize it with the help of the Large Woody Materials project.
Woody structures were placed through a one-mile segment of the East Branch Spring Creek to stabilize the areas being eroded. Trees were also planted to replace the ones harvested for the project.
Seeking new projects
The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy have up to $3.1 million in Central Appalachia Habitat Stewardship grant money for conservation projects, like these ones. The grants are $50,000 to $200,000 a piece. The deadline for the proposals for grant money is July 10. They are $50,000 to $200,000 a piece.