Southeast Mussels Get Protection and Habitat


     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized protection for eight threatened or endangered freshwater mussel species in Alabama and Florida and designated nearly 1500 stream miles of critical habitat to aid in the species’ recovery, according to the agency’s statement.
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     The action was spurred by a 2011 settlement between the federal agency and environmental groups to speed listing decisions for 757 species, according to a Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) statement.
     “More species of freshwater mussels are found in the American Southeast than anywhere else in the world, but 75 percent of the region’s freshwater mussels are now at risk of extinction,” the CBD noted.
     Under the final determination, the agency listed the Alabama pearlshell, round ebonyshell, southern kidneyshell and Choctaw bean as endangered throughout their ranges, and the tapered pigtoe, narrow pigtoe, southern sandshell and fuzzy pigtoe as threatened throughout their ranges. The southern sandshell’s status was revised to threatened due to a peer reviewer’s comment on the 2011 proposed rule and new survey data, the action noted.
     Changes to proposed critical habitat were also made in response to comments on the proposal and new information. Of the 1,494 stream miles in south Alabama and the Florida panhandle identified as critical habitat, 11 percent are next to governmental lands, six percent contain government land on one side of the stream and private land on the other, and 83 percent are next to private lands. “Large portions of the designation are already designated critical habitat for the Gulf sturgeon,” the agency stated.
     “The primary cause of the decline of these eight mussels has been the modification and destruction of their stream and river habitat, with sedimentation as the leading cause. Their stream habitats are subject to pollution and alteration from a variety of sources including adjacent land use activities, in-water activities, effluent discharges, and impoundments,” the action stated.
     Heavy sedimentation causes the mussels to slow or stop feeding and also affects their reproduction, according to the regulation. “Mussels reproduce by making a lure that looks like a young fish or insect; when larger fish attempt to prey upon the lure, the mussels release their fertilized eggs onto the fish’s gills. Juvenile mussels develop as parasites on the gills before dropping off to begin life on their own. In dirty water, the fish can’t see the mussel’s lure, so the mussel has no chance to reproduce,” the CBD stated.
     The final rule is effective Nov. 9.

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