In conjunction with the National Park Service, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources earlier this month stocked about 1,200 individual mussels into the Green River within Mammoth Cave National Park in southcentral Kentucky, in order to restore a federally-listed endangered species historically found in waters of the commonwealth.
The rayed bean, a species of freshwater mussel, has not been found in Kentucky waters in more than four decades. The mussels for this restoration effort were moved from the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania because of a tar spill.
In return, the Center for Mollusk Conservation in Frankfort will be sharing a different species of mussel with Pennsylvania for additional research next spring. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife founded the center in 2002, and it is one of the world’s foremost facilities for restoring and recovering rare and imperiled freshwater mussels.
Another 1,200 individuals of the same mussel species were placed in the Green River upstream of the national park.
“The re-introduction of the federally endangered rayed bean into Mammoth Cave National Park is an important step in re-establishing this species in its historic Kentucky range,” Mammoth Cave Science and Resource Management Chief Tim Pinion said.
“The National Park Service is proud to partner with Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources in conservation of freshwater mussels in the Green River, including many rare and endangered species.”
The restoration of the rayed bean in the Green River is part of a larger, multi-species effort that Kentucky Fish and Wildlife started in 2004. The initial project aimed to restore rare and endangered mussels in the Licking River in northeastern Kentucky.
Each of the rare mussels placed into a waterway is tagged so the department can monitor them over time.
“Restoring historic biodiversity is part of the mission of Kentucky Fish and Wildlife,” said Monte McGregor, director of the Center for Mollusk Conservation.
“One of our primary purposes as an agency is to help native Kentucky wildlife species to thrive. Through our restoration and monitoring activities, we’ve seen populations of many rare mussels become re-established and increase, nearly doubling in some cases.”
Freshwater mussels purify water naturally, providing a vital ecological service. Mussels filter water as they feed, removing sediments and chemical pollutants from the water, thus improving living conditions for people as well as other wildlife species.