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Biologist helps find balance between humans and nature
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Jon Duyvejonck, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, checks the frozen waters of the Mississippi River near the opening to Sunset Marina in Rock Island.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Jon Duyvejonck, a biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, says the Mississippi River is the most significant natural resource in the Quad-Cities area.
ROCK ISLAND -- It really comes down to the clash of two powerful and relentless forces.

On the one hand are humans, who have gained the power to permanently alter the landscape around them in a matter of months, days or even minutes. On the other hand is nature, which usually takes much, much longer -- often thousands or millions of years -- to make change.

When that clash between human progress and nature's creations involves the Mississippi River, it's the job of Jon Duyvejonck and other staffers at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) Quad-Cities branch to try to find a balance between the two.

"(The river is) the most significant resource in our area and that is why we devote most of our time to that," said Mr. Duyvejonck, of Rock Island, who is a biologist.

An example: Rock Island's Sunset Marina wants to mitigate the problem of silt getting into its harbor, but there is a long bed of mussels adjacent to the marina that could be affected by the project.

"Hopefully we can find an arrangement that will protect the mussels," Mr. Duyvejonck said one recent snowy day at the marina.

He was trying to give an idea of the extent of the mussel bed, trudging through the crunchy snow on the long, thin tongue of land that comprises the riverside portion of the north side of the park, not far from 18th Avenue.

"It starts up here somewhere and runs all the way to the Rock River," he said. A bed can run for miles but only be a few feet wide, he added.

Projects big and small, whether they involve finding the best way to put in a boat dock or to compensate for changes in the river caused by a nuclear power plant, the FWS is usually involved.

Other jobs include educating the public, checking water quality, monitoring the health of native species, helping plan the restoration of wetlands and trying to prevent the intrusion of non-native species.

This mix creates many interesting sights at the FWS building in Moline, where Mr. Duyvejonck gave a tour prior to the visit to Sunset.

In his office, next to his desk, was an aquarium full of fresh water mussels. They are not the most exciting of aquarium tenants, but one of them he rescued from a mussel bed destroyed by a project.

On a shelf by the door was a small, lumpy looking fish in a jar. Unlike the mussels, the fish was quite dead, looking like something destined for dissection in a high school laboratory.

It was a round goby -- an example of an invasive species. The FWS believes the ugly little fellows, native to Europe and Asia, accidentally were introduced into the U.S. in ballast water from ships traveling on the Great Lakes.

On a table in the FWS garage are examples of things people are not supposed to have under federal law: pelts from endangered animals, a walrus tusk and crocodile handbag. Mr. Duyvejonck said the items are confiscated by other jurisdictions and when they are done with the contraband, it is given to the FWS for educational purposes.

Also on the table is another example of an invasive species. It is a large native mussel shell infested with zebra mussels. The zebra mussel is another European intruder introduced via the Great Lakes, according to the FWS. When they take up residence on a native mussel's shell, they eventually can kill the host, Mr. Duyvejonck said.

Nearby is a freezer packed with plastic bags, each with a dead wild animal inside, from sturgeons to young raptors.They were collected during various surveys and will be tested to see if they can shed light on what was going on in the environment around them when they died. Some of them were collected after an ethanol spill in the Rock River near Rockford, said Mr. Duyvejonck. The contaminated water flowed down the Rock past the Quad-Cities and the FWS watched for problems caused by the spill.

"(The Rockford spill) didn't seem to have much of an effect," he said.

Mr. Duyvejonck said his office believes the contaminant was so diluted by the time it reached the Quad-Cities that issues were minimal.

In another spot in the garage is a collection of weighted bowls that FWS staff hope to use to keep tabs on water quality, he said. The experiment involves putting small containers of native mussels in the bowls. The mussels' tissues tend to soak up things that are in the water around them.

"They'll pick that up in their body tissue and we can test that tissue," he said.

Back at Sunset Marina, Mr. Duyvejonck points out another way to use mussels, or at least their empty shells. Muskrats eat mussels, and leave the shells in piles called middens. The shells in those middens can be counted to get an idea of the mussel population's size.

"It's a quick and dirty indicator," he said.

A few moments later, the conversation drifts away from mussels.

"I wonder what that blue heron is doing hanging around here," Mr. Duyvejonck said. "He just doesn't want to leave."

It was late morning, though it was hard to tell from the grayness of the snowy day. The lanky heron was settled on a light pole.

"That guy's probably just resting from eating breakfast," he said.

It was a little late in the year to see a heron, but Mr. Duyvejonck said the bird's presence could be explained by several possible factors or a combination of them, including better habitat, or a larger population.

"If there's open water, they'll make it," he said.

Local events heading

  Today is Monday, Oct. 20, the 293rd day of 2014. There are 72 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The store of Devoe and Crampton was entered and robbed of about $500 worth of gold pens and pocket cutlery last night.
1889 -- 125 years ago: Michael Malloy was named president of the Tri-City Stone Cutters Union.
1914 -- 100 years ago: Dewitte C. Poole, former Moline newspaperman serving as vice consul general for the United States government in Paris, declared in a letter to friends that the once gay Paris is a city of sadness and desolation.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Plans for the construction of an $80,000 wholesale bakery at 2011 4th Ave. were announced by Harry and Nick Coin, of Rock Island. It is to be known as the Banquet Bakery.
1964 -- 50 years ago: An application has been filed for a state permit to organize a savings and loan association in Moline, it was announced. The applicants are Ben Butterworth, A.B. Lundahl, C. Richard Evans, John Harris, George Crampton and William Getz, all of Moline, Charles Roberts, Rock Island, and Charles Johnson, of Hampton.
1989 -- 25 years ago: Indian summer is quickly disappearing as temperatures slide into the 40s and 50s this week. Last week, highs were in the 80s.

(More History)