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$400K invasive species program to begin in mid-March

Saturday, February 21, 2009
The Associated Press

RENO, Nev. — Scientists are preparing to wage an all-out war against another threat to Lake Tahoe's famed pure waters: Asian clams.

The quarter-sized critters have turned up in numerous locations along Tahoe's southeast shore and prompted concern that they could pave the way for even more destructive invasive species such as quagga or zebra mussels. Scuba divers will be used in a $400,000 project designed to test ways to remove the clams. The effort, jointly funded by the federal government, Nevada and California, is scheduled to begin in mid-March.

"This needs to be done. We have to get our hands around the Asian clam problem," Tahoe Regional Planning Agency spokesman Dennis Oliver told the Reno Gazette-Journal. Native to Japan, China and Korea, the clams first turned up in the U.S. in the 1930s and at Tahoe in 2001.

The clams are suspected of releasing nutrients that fueled an algae bloom around Marla Bay on Tahoe's east s hore last summer. Algae growth threatens to turn Tahoe's blue waters green. But scientists are more concerned that the clams could promote an invasion by quagga or zebra mussels - mollusks already spreading across lakes and reservoirs across much of the U.S.

Decaying clam shells could boost calcium levels that permit mussels to become established, scientists say, and trigger major problems in the lake's ecosystem. Mussels could clog water intakes, attach to docks, litter pristine beaches and spread down the Truckee River, the Reno area's major water source, scientists say.

Those fears make the Asian clam a "serious threat" that can't be ignored, said Steve Chilton, aquatic invasive species coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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