Mussels & DuPage: Urban Stream Research Center

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As Jessi DeMartini led us toward the lab of the Urban Stream Research Center Saturday, she said to a kid, “I am a crappy fisherman. And I always end up looking for mussels anyway.”

She meant crappy as slang; not crappie, the delectable panfish.

Good thing mussels fascinate her. She is a streams ecologist and coordinator of the center for the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County.

The center, located in the Blackwell Forest Preserve in Warrenville, opened in 2012. Three people work at the center, which is not open to the public.

Ed Buric of the Illinois Smallmouth Alliance invited me along when DeMartini gave a tour. The ISA does volunteer work with DeMartini, who often looks for volunteers.

If you’re the sap saddled with scheduling speakers for your club, I highly recommend DeMartini; she has thoughts and drops them bluntly.

It’s a research center, so models are experiments. Now the project is growing plain pocketbook mussels.

“If we had 50,000 mussels in the [DuPage] river, it would be like a miniature filtration plant,” DeMartini said.

That’s not inconsequential. Years ago, the West Branch was an intermittent stream. Now it has seven treatment plants on it–“That is a lot of incoming water”–and lots of runoff from development.

In the 1950s, there were 16 species of mussels there, now eight in limited quantities.

Before she giving us a tour, DeMartini did a presentation on stream restoration, mainly on the Super Fund section of the West Branch. That was a learning process of trail and error in modern stream restoration.

“Giving the river some ammunition, some rock and wood, then letting it move it around,” DeMartini said.

Aquatic technician Jim Intihar counts juvenile mussels at the Urban Stream Research Center.

Credit: Dale Bowman

She works extensively with flora and fauna restoration along the river. Last summer, I went along when ISA members helped DeMartini plant water-willow, an experiment that goes well.

May propagating mussels be as successful.

The process involves gathering mussels, having the glochidia (larvae) attach to the gills of the host largemouth bass, then collecting and rearing the juveniles (think pencil dots) after they detach.

While DeMartini explained the lab, aquatic tech Jim Intihar(right) was counting juvenile mussels under a microscope.

He said the day before they had counted, 6,500. Their big day last year was 12,500.

More trial and error in restoration is coming from DeMartini.

“People like to control things, I like to take risks,” she said.

ILLINOIS HUNTERS: If you received a free upland game permit, harvest report deadline is Monday, Feb. 15; same deadline applies for the windshield card system (click here for info).

WILD THINGS: The Great Backyard Bird Count, something I highly recommend for teachers, scout leaders and parents, is Friday through Monday, Feb. 12-15,

STRAY CAST: I finally figured the analogy for NFL refs this year. Carp trapped in Illinois River cornfields after flood, swimming circles looking for a way out.

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