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Once abundant in the state's waterways, freshwater mussel populations have been reduced by dams, which lower levels of shallow streams where they reside and by silt, which is created in waterways by construction and agriculture and can choke them. Freshwater mussels have a long history in the state, having been enjoyed by Native Americans along the Yadkin River over a thousand years ago.
Recent surveys conducted by biologists from the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission show there has been a catastrophic decline statewide in native freshwater mollusks. There are about sixty species found in the state; thirty are in serious trouble. What is puzzling to biologists is that there is little evidence of direct pollution or water disturbance and that decline is also occurring in pristine waters. Airborne pollutants, like acid precipitation, are likely culprits.
Freshwater mussels benefit the environment by cleaning water as they filter it for food particles. Because many of the mussels are classified as endangered, their presence in a particular location can cause trouble with plans for growth and development. Since 1999, one hundred and nine road projects were delayed in North Carolina while local ordinances, stormwater controls and other measures were put into place to safeguard the federally protected mussels. Early encourages smart planning to direct growth to where it will do the least harm to one of the most threatened natural resources in the state.