March 15, 2004
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
LAWSUIT FILED TO PROTECT ENDANGERED AND THREATENED SOUTHEASTERN MUSSELS
(ATLANTA, GA) The Center for Biological Diversity ("CBD") filed a lawsuit today in the Northern District of the United States District Court over the refusal of the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service ("Service") to designate critical habitat for five endangered and two threatened mussel species found in Georgia, Florida and Alabama rivers. On March 16, 1998, the Service listed the shinyrayed pocketbook, fat threeridge, moccasinshell, Ochlockonee moccasinshell, and oval pigtoe as endangered and the Chipola slabshell and purple bankclimber as threatened throughout their ranges. Since then, the Service has failed to designate critical habitat for the species despite clear legal requirements to do so.
"North America has the world's greatest diversity of freshwater mussels and over 90% of those species are found in the southeastern United States," said Sidney Maddock, Environmental Analyst for the CBD. "We are at risk of loosing our unique natural heritage."
The seven mussel species that are the subject of this complaint are endemic to the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin of southeast Alabama, southwest Georgia, and northwest Florida, and the Ochlockonee River system of southwest Georgia and northwest Florida. The Service has acknowledged that these seven mussels were eliminated from much of their historical range by impoundments, channelization, pollution, and sedimentation, and threats such as erosive land practices, construction of new impoundments, water withdrawals, and exotic species continue. These threats have resulted in significant extirpations (localized loss of populations), restricted and fragmented distributions, and poor recruitment of young.
"These mussel species are indicators of the health of our rivers, notes attorney Larry Sanders, the Turner Environmental Law Clinic attorney representing CBD. "This is a lawsuit about saving rivers and protecting water quality."
According to two long-delayed reports quietly submitted to Congress by the Service in June 2003, species with critical habitat are twice as likely to make progress towards recovery as species without it. "Critical habitat is a fundamental tool for conserving and recovering imperiled species," said Larry Sanders. "Congress specifically included provisions to designate and protect critical habitat in the Endangered Species Act in order to conserve the unique ecosystems and processes upon which species depend."
The common and scientific names for the species are the fat threeridge (Amblema neislerii), shinyrayed pocketbook (Lampsilis subangulata), moccasinshell (Medionidus penicillatus), Ochlockonee moccasinshell (Medionidus simpsonianus), oval pigtoe (Pleurobema pyriforme), Chipola slabshell (Elliptio chipolaensis) and purple bankclimber (Elliptoideus sloatianus).
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to the protection of native species and their habitats throughout the United States and internationally. CBD works to protect and restore natural ecosystems and imperiled species through science, education, policy, and environmental law. For more information, visit: www.biologicaldiversity.org
The Center is represented by attorneys Lawrence D. Sanders of the Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory University School of Law, and Jay Tutchton of the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Law Clinic, at the University of Denver, College of Law.