Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 2, 2018

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681,

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Critical Habitat for Freshwater Mussels in 18 States

Four Species Need Clean Water in States Like Wisconsin, New York, Virginia

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect critical habitat for four endangered freshwater mussels found in 18 states in the East and Midwest.

The mussels have declined by nearly 70 percent because of water pollution and dams, and remaining populations are at high risk of extinction. They were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2012, but the Fish and Wildlife Service did not designate protected critical habitat for protection as required by law.

“The health of freshwater mussels directly reflects river health, so protecting the places where these mussels live will help all of us who rely on clean water,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “This is especially important now, when we see growing threats to clean water from climate change, agriculture and other sources.”

The four colorfully named mussels — snuffbox, spectaclecase, sheepnose and rayed bean — range from Wisconsin and New York to Alabama, and from Kansas east to Virginia. Protection of critical habitat for the mussels will require anyone conducting a federally funded or permitted project in the mussels’ habitat to consult with the Service to ensure the species’ habitat would not be damaged. Species with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be moving toward recovery as species without it.

Freshwater mussels are the most endangered group of organisms in North America because they are highly sensitive to water pollution. The eastern United States has more species of freshwater mussels than anywhere in the world, but 70 percent of them are at risk of extinction.

Mussels feed by filtering small particles from the water, contributing to water quality by making water clearer. But because they constantly filter water, they accumulate pollutants in their bodies.

Species Background
The rayed bean, small and bean-shaped, was once found in 10 states, from Tennessee north into Canada. It has been lost from more than 70 percent of its former range and today is found only in small populations in Tennessee, West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania. It has been declining for decades and was first placed on a federal waiting list for Endangered Species Act protection in 1984.

The snuffbox, a medium-sized yellow mussel, was once common in 18 states, ranging from Alabama to Canada. It has declined by more than 60 percent and has been lost from four states. It was first placed on a federal waiting list for Endangered Species Act protection in 1991.

The sheepnose is five inches long with an oval shell. In the past it was commercially harvested to make jewelry and buttons. It has declined by 70 percent and was identified as being in need of federal protection in 2004. Sheepnose are currently found in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The spectaclecase is seven inches long with a brown shell and is currently found in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Very few of its surviving populations are known to be reproducing. It has declined by 70 percent and was first identified as being in need of federal protection in 1984.

Sheepnose mussel

Sheepnose mussel photo by Katie Steiger-Meister, USFWS. Images are available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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