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Agency Plans Protection|for Freshwater Mussels

WASHINGTON (CN) - Two "heavy-shelled" freshwater mussels that range through the Midwest and southeastern United States may get Endangered Species Act protection and designated critical habitat, according to a proposed rule.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to list the Neosho mucket as endangered in four states, to list the rabbitsfoot mussel as threatened in 15 states, and to designate 2,138 miles of stream channels in 12 states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee) as habitat essential to the species' survival, the agency's press release said.

The action was spurred by a court settlement between the federal agency and environmental groups to hasten protection decisions for plants and animals across the country, according to a Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) statement.

The round 4 inch wide Neosho mucket's range has been reduced by 62 percent, with only one of the remaining nine populations considered to be viable. The rectangular 6 inch long rabbitsfoot mussel has lost 64 percent of its range with only 11 of its historic 140 populations considered viable, the rule said.

Both mussels "continue to experience habitat loss due to degradation of stream and river habitats from impoundments, channelization, chemical contaminants, mining, oil and natural gas development, and increasing sedimentation. Since freshwater mussels require clean water, their decline often signals a decline in the water quality of the streams and rivers they inhabit," the agency said.

The Neosho mucket has been waiting for protection since 1984 and the rabbitsfoot mussel has been waiting since 1994, according to the CBD statement.

The USFWS seeks public comments, which are due by Dec. 17, 2012.


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