Tiny clam may play big role in protecting wetland

·4 min read

A Slocan Valley conservation group says the discovery of a rare, tiny species of clam may help aid efforts to protect a valuable wetland in the north Slocan Valley.

“It’s a key indicator of the health of our watershed,” says Wendy King, president of the Slocan Lake Stewardship Society (SLSS) and the lead on the Bonanza Biodiversity Corridor study.

Researchers working for SLSS stumbled across the tiny Herrington’s fingernail clam in April while guiding visitors on a tour of the wetland area around Summit Lake, between Hills and Nakusp.

“Our chief biologist, or ecologist, Ryan Durand was just walking along, and he’s our Species at Risk expert. He saw this little clam and picked it up and recorded his discovery,” says King.

The Herrington’s fingernail clam is the size of a child’s fingernail. At less than eight millimetres (about 1/3 of an inch), the clam is blue-listed, meaning it is thought to be vulnerable in its locale.

“It’s typically found in more coastal areas, and the registry has only recorded nine occurrences in BC,” says King. “So it’s either not really discovered, or there hasn’t been a lot of confirmation.”

(There have recently been other sightings of the clam, further south in the valley, so it may be more widely distributed in BC than realized.)

The clam has a fascinating life, thriving in temporary creeks and ponds created by spring runoff. As summer dries the land, the clams bury themselves in the wet sub-soil, awaiting the next freshet.

The clam isn’t the only rare species found in the Bonanza Corridor. King says in the last three years of their survey, assessment, and restoration work, they’ve confirmed at least one ‘red-listed’ species, 18 other blue-listed ones, and 400 yellow-listed species, from lichen to invertebrates to mammals.

The discoveries haven’t been made by luck alone: SLSS has been working on trying to restore habitat, improve the water flow and identify areas of particular need of protection.

But the tiny clam may help the stewardship society to convince governments to create further protections for the corridor, which King says is unique for its water systems.

“Even though a railway has gone through here, and there’s been clearcutting and lots of forest burns, it still remains a biodiversity hotspot,” she says. “And in part it’s due to the hydrology – the amount of water that feeds through. It’s a huge filter. It’s alive all the time even when it’s dry.”

It also helps the area is mostly Crown land, without a lot of ongoing development or human impact that’s taken place over the last century.

Still, much work remains to be done before stronger measures can be taken to protect the little clam and its more – and less – impressive neighbours in the corridor. The society’s project ends this year, and a report will be drawn up this fall. Then work begins with the provincial, local and aboriginal governments and the local community to try to come up with a strategy and protective framework for the wetlands.

King feels the discovery of the clam should also redouble efforts to protect the area from invasive species being carried into the corridor, which is popular for recreational boaters, fishers, hikers and bikers.

“It’s really important we understand aquatic invasives could upset this balance extremely quickly, and that’s why we have to be even more alert about even kayaks going into those waters,” she says. “We’re in a pristine environment and the water quality is really good because of the filtering in the Bonanza Corridor. It’s the highest concentration of wetlands in the Slocan watershed. They are our big filter.”

This little clam, even though you’d likely overlook it if you were just walking by, may help shelter other creatures in the corridor – rare or not.

“Right now, the environmental and conservation community is in a state of flux, because we’re starting to see we need to represent not just one species, but have a suite of species, because they all represent something about the health of that watershed or that drainage,” says King.

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

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