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Unknown to many, the imperiled shellfish inhabit the Tualatin River watershed.

COURTESY PHOTO - Freshwater mussels live in the Tualatin River basin, but many populations across the United States are threatened or endangered due to changing environmental conditions.When you think of the animals that live in the wetlands and streams of the Tualatin River watershed, there are probably some obvious ones that come to mind.

We have fish, including salmonids — salmon, trout and steelhead. Dragonflies and damselflies. Frogs, salamanders and garter snakes. Ducks. Osprey. Crawfish, or crayfish, or mudbugs — whatever you call them.

But there's one animal you probably don't think of in association with freshwater habitats like the Tualatin River: mussels.

A type of shellfish related to clams and oysters, freshwater mussels inhabit the Tualatin River basin, although many people don't know they're there. They typically live on the bottom of rivers and streams, keeping low to the riverbed and filter-feeding on algae and other organic particles.

The Jackson Bottom Wetlands Nature Center in Hillsboro will host a program Wednesday, Oct. 16, at which attendees can learn more about freshwater mussels like those living in the Tualatin River watershed.

Unfortunately, many species of freshwater mussels living in North America are classified as threatened or endangered. The Center for Biological Diversity describes them as "the most endangered group of organisms in the United States."

Water pollution and river damming have caused many mussel populations to decline. Because they are specially adapted to their environments, even minute changes can have devastating effects on freshwater mussels.

The class at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Nature Center is intended for people ages 12 and up, including adults.

Allan Smith of the Pacific Northwest Native Freshwater Mussel Workgroup, which is affiliated with the conservationist Xerces Society, will teach the class. Smith spent his career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and he is an expert on the type of environments in which mussels live.

The class will cover the biology and ecology of mussels and discuss conservation efforts.

The cost of the class is $12 for Hillsboro residents or $18 for non-residents. Senior residents pay just $8, and senior non-residents pay $15.

Registration is available at hillsboro-oregon.gov/register, by phone at 503-681-6206, or at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve, 2600 S.W. Hillsboro Highway.

The course is scheduled from 7 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.


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