The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes placing three freshwater mussels, the Cumberland moccasinshell, Tennessee clubshell, and Tennessee pigtoe on the federal list of threatened and endangered species. Each of these species is being proposed for endangered species status.
“The southeastern United States is home to a tremendous diversity of freshwater life, with the global center of mussel diversity being right here,” said Acting Southeast Regional Director Mike Oetker. “The state of freshwater mussels often reflects the quality of water. The listing of these mussels is a reminder of the importance of our role in keeping water clean.”
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) defines an endangered species as one at risk of extinction, and a threatened species as one that is likely to become at risk of extinction (endangered) in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Today, there are 65 known populations of Cumberland moccasinshell, with 87 populations believed extinct; 64 known populations of Tennessee clubshell with 83 believed extinct; and 63 known populations of Tennessee pigtoe, with 51 believed extinct. All three mussels occur in the Tennessee River basin, while the Cumberland moccasinshell and Tennessee clubshell are also found in the Cumberland River basin.
Animals protected under the ESA are generally protected via:
Efforts to conserve them have increased eligibility for funding.
Increased restrictions on trade and transport.
Prohibition on take without a permit, i.e., harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap capture, or collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct.
Consideration in actions that are federally authorized, funded, or carried out, and assurance that such actions won’t jeopardize the existence of a species.
Sensitive to pollution, native mussels are indicators of broader stream health – vibrant mussel populations typically reflect a healthy stream. In addition to being indicators of stream health, mussels clean water as they feed, filtering their food from the water column, and with it, sediment and other pollutants. There are more than 900 species worldwide, with North America being a global center of mussel diversity, with about 300 species. Despite the high amount of diversity, 65 percent of North American freshwater mussel species are imperiled.
All three species proposed for listing with this announcement prefer faster moving streams, and within those streams they prefer shallower, faster-flowing stretches with stable stream bottoms dominated by coarse sand, gravel, and cobble. Individuals are often found in habitat less than three feet deep in small to medium-sized rivers. The Cumberland moccasinshell grows to about 2.5 inches long and lives 5-20 years, while the Tennessee clubshell and Tennessee pigtoe are larger, at around 3.5 inches long, and live 30-50 years. These mussels have suffered from negative impacts commonly found in central and eastern U.S. streams, including habitat degradation and loss, genetic isolation, and threats from invasive and non-native species.
For this decision, the Service reached out to species and habitat experts from state wildlife agencies and universities, and other researchers to compile and analyze all available data on the mussels and their well-being. The resulting compilation, called a species status assessment, went through a rigorous peer-review process.
The public is invited to submit comments on the proposed listing throughout a 60-day comment period ending October 21, 2023. We will accept electronic or hard copy comments received or postmarked on or before October 23, 2023. Comments submitted electronically must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for a public hearing, in writing, at U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 160 Zillicoa St., Asheville, NC 28801 by October 6, 2023.
You may submit comments on the proposed rule or draft economic analysis by one of the following methods:
(1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the search box, enter FWS-R4-ES-2023-0112, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, click on the search button. On the resulting page, in the search panel on the left side of the screen, under the “Document Type” heading, check the “Proposed Rule” box to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”
(2) By hard copy: Send by U.S. mail or hand-deliver to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2023-0112; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: JAO/1N, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.
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