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For Immediate Release, October 15, 2012

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Two Midwest and Southeast Mussels Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection
With 2,000 Protected River Miles

 Five Southeast Fish Protected With 200 River Miles

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed Endangered Species Act protection today for two freshwater mussels following a 2011 agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity to speed protection decisions for 757 imperiled species nationwide. The Service is proposing 2,138 river miles of protected habitat for the mussels in 12 Midwest and Southeast states. The Service also finalized 229 river miles of habitat protection today for five fish in four Southeast states.

Gray wolf
Chucky madtom photo courtesy Conservation Fisheries International. Photos of this and other species in the 757 agreement are available for media use.

“Saving mussels and fish helps people too,” said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center. “By protecting habitat for these freshwater animals, we’re also taking care of the water people need for drinking, fishing and swimming.”

The Neosho mucket and rabbitsfoot mussels live on the bottom of streams and rivers and have suffered drastic declines because of water pollution and dams. Mussels reproduce by making a lure that looks like a young fish; when larger fish try to prey on the lure, the mussels release their fertilized eggs onto the fish’s gills. In dirty water, the fish cannot see the mussel’s lure, so the mussel can’t reproduce.

The five fish species are endangered by habitat loss and pollution. They were protected under the Endangered Species Act in August 2011 as the result of a landmark settlement between the Center and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The designation of critical habitat will require federal agencies to consult with the Service to ensure that any federally funded or permitted actions will not damage or destroy the fishes’ critical habitat.

Species Background

The Neosho mucket mussel has a 4-inch, round shell that’s light tan on the outside and bluish-white on the inside. It lives in the Illinois, Neosho and Verdigris river watersheds in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Threatened by dams and pollution from agriculture and mining, it can no longer be found in more than 60 percent of its historic range. The Service is proposing to list it as “endangered” and to protect 484 river miles as “critical habitat” to ensure its survival. The mucket has been on a waiting list for protection since 1984.

The rabbitsfoot mussel grows to about 6 inches in length, with a rectangular, olive shell featuring gorgeous black triangles on the outside and iridescent purple or white inside. It has disappeared from 65 percent of its historic range. The Service is proposing to list it as “threatened” and to protect 1,654 river miles in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee as critical habitat. The rabbitsfoot was historically known from 139 streams in 15 states, but today it survives in only 49 streams and has been lost from Georgia and West Virginia. It is threatened by water pollution, mining, dredging, dams and displacement by exotic mollusks. It has been waiting for protection since 1994.

The Cumberland darter is threatened by pollution from coal mining, logging, agriculture and construction. The Service is protecting 54 river miles for the darter in Whitley and McCreary counties, Ky., and Campbell and Scott counties, Tenn. The Center petitioned for federal protection of the Cumberland darter in 2004.

The chucky madtom is a rare catfish known from only two streams in Tennessee —  Dunn Creek in Sevier County and Little Chucky Creek in Greene County. Twenty river miles in Greene County are being protected as critical habitat for the madtom. Only three chucky madtom individuals have been encountered since 2000; the fish likely survives only in Little Chucky Creek. It is threatened by pollution from agriculture and animal feedlots. The Center petitioned to protect the madtom under the Endangered Species Act in 2004.

The laurel dace is found in streams on the Walden Ridge portion of the Cumberland Plateau. It is threatened by pollution from logging, coal mining, agriculture and rock removal. The Service is protecting 26 river miles for the Laurel dace in Bledsoe, Rhea and Sequatchie counties, Tenn.

The rush darter is threatened by pollution from urbanization and logging. It occurs in Etowah, Jefferson and Winston counties, Ala., where 27 river miles are being designated as critical habitat to protect it. The Center filed a petition seeking federal protection for the rush darter in 2004.

The yellowcheek darter is found in the Little Red River and its tributaries in Cleburne, Searcy, Stone and Van Buren counties, Ark. Much of its original habitat was lost following the construction of a dam on the Little Red River to create Greers Ferry Reservoir. It is also threatened by natural gas development, pollution from animal feedlots, cattle grazing, clearcut logging and gravel mining. The Service is designating 102 river miles as critical habitat for the darter. The Center sought Endangered Species Act protection for the yellowcheek darter in 2004.

The Southeast is home to more kinds of freshwater animals than anywhere else in the world, but more than 50 species have already been lost to extinction. The Center is working to protect more than 400 freshwater species in the Southeast.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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