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November 2, 2010

US Fish and Wildlife Service News Release
November 2, 2010

Contacts: Connie Light Dickard, Connie_Dickard@fws.gov, 601/321-1121
Denise Rowell, Denise_Rowell@fws.gov, 251/441-6630
Tom MacKenzie, Tom_MacKenzie@fws.gov, 404/679-7291

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Announces Endangered Status and Critical Habitat Designation for Three Mollusks

The Georgia pigtoe mussel, interrupted rocksnail, and rough hornsnail now are formally protected as endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today in the Federal Register.

In addition, critical habitat was designated for the three species, all found in the Coosa River drainage of the Mobile River Basin, which flows through parts of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee.

The mussel and the two aquatic snails were initially proposed as endangered species, with critical habitat, on June 29, 2009. Parts of eight rivers and streams in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee, are designated as critical habitat for the mussel and snails. In total, approximately 160 miles of stream and river channels fall within the boundaries of the critical habitat designation in Cherokee, Clay, Coosa, Elmore and Shelby counties, Alabama; Gordon, Floyd, Murray and Whitfield counties, Georgia; and Bradley and Polk counties, Tennessee.

Mussels are essential indicators of water quality. Gradual die-offs or sudden mussel kills signal pollution problems in the aquatic environment on which mussels and humans both depend. The mussels’ ability to filter makes them natural water purifiers of their river and lake environments. Mussels also serve as a food source for wildlife, including muskrats and otters.

Yet, all three of these mussel species have disappeared from 90 percent or more of their historical ranges, mainly due to the impoundment of their river habitats. Surviving populations are threatened by the deterioration of water quality and habitats. Predation also poses a threat as changes in flows, depths, temperatures, and other environmental factors within some portions of their ranges may have led to increased numbers of native mollusk-eating fish, such as freshwater drum.

Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act that identifies geographic areas with features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species, and which may require special management considerations or protection. Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge or preserve, and has no impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not require federal funding or permits.

Conservation benefits provided to species listed as endangered or threatened under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, requirements for federal protection, and prohibitions against certain practices. Recognition through listing encourages and results in conservation efforts by federal, state, and private agencies, groups, and individuals. The Act requires that recovery actions be carried out for all species listed as threatened or endangered, and provides for cooperation with the states to implement recovery actions. Listing under the Act also provides prohibitions against taking and harming the species and requires federal agencies to avoid jeopardizing the species or adversely modifying their designated critical habitats.

The complete final determination can be obtained by visiting the Federal eRulemaking Portal: www.regulations.gov. A copy of the final rule is also available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Field Office, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Jackson, Mississippi 39213, telephone: 601-321-1121.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Visit the Service’s website at www.fws.gov or www.fws.gov/southeast/.

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