FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sep. 13, 2007
Contacts: Geoff Call 931-528-6481, Ext. 213
Tom MacKenzie, 404-679-7291

FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE TO REINTRODUCE

21 SPECIES INTO THE TENNESSEE RIVER SYSTEM

As part of a broad effort to restore threatened and endangered species in the Tennessee River system, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will reintroduce 21 federally listed aquatic species – 15 mussels, five fish and one snail – into the French Broad and Holston rivers in Tennessee. The reintroductions will occur in the main stem of each river below Douglas and Cherokee dams. The action was published in today’s Federal Register at: http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20071800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2007/07-4320.htm

The reintroduced aquatic species would be classified as non-essential experimental populations (NEPs) under the Endangered Species Act. Non-essential experimental population status is a special category under the Endangered Species Act. It allows for reintroduction and protection, and its requirements are less stringent than those for species that are not in this category.

This rule allows for reintroduction of the following species of mussels: Appalachian monkeyface pearlymussel, birdwing pearlymussel, cracking pearlymussel, Cumberland bean pearlymussel, Cumberland monkeyface pearlymussel, dromedary pearlymussel, orange-foot pimpleback pearlymussel, white wartyback pearlymussel, Cumberlandian combshell, fine-rayed pigtoe, fanshell, oyster mussel, ring pink mussel, rough pigtoe, and shiny pigtoe. The proposal also includes the Anthony’s riversnail and several fish species, including the duskytail darter, pygmy madtom, slender chub, spotfin chub, and yellowfin madtom.

"The reintroduction of listed species into restored historic habitat is an important step in the recovery process," said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director. "This is one way we can try to give these species a chance after losing so much habitat due to impoundments and other man-made disturbances."

These aquatic species reintroductions were developed at the request of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. They are part of a larger recovery effort begin conducted by the Service and its state, federal, and private partners. The goal of this and related recovery programs in other watersheds is to recover these mollusk and fish species to the point where they can be removed from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants.

The lower French Broad and Holston rivers once supported diverse fish, snail, and mussel fauna – possibly as many as 85 mussels species and subspecies – accounting for approximately 65 percent of the mussel diversity previously known to exist in the entire Tennessee River system. Of this once-rich mussel fauna, seven species are now extinct, and 15 mussels, one aquatic snail, and five fishes (the same species included in this rule) are federally listed but extirpated from these river reaches. The only federally-listed mussel still occurring in the NEP area is the endangered pink mucket (Lampsilis abrupta), which still occurs in both the lower French Broad and lower Holston Rivers. The pink mucket is not one of the 15 mussel species the Service is planning to reintroduce under this NEP.

Although many mussels and some of the fish species have been eliminated from these river reaches, suitable physical habitat still remains, and the Tennessee Valley Authority and other federal and state natural resources agencies, industries, and local municipalities have done much to improve water quality in these rivers. Consequently, fish fauna is rebounding, aquatic snail populations are expanding, and non-endangered mussels and snails released into the lower French Broad River to test the area’s suitability for mussel transplants are doing well. Based on the results of recent studies and observations by knowledgeable scientists, these river reaches appear to provide potential habitat for the reintroduction of their historical aquatic fauna.

The Service does not expect the reintroductions to have an impact on the activities of other federal agencies in the area. In addition, if a person inadvertently kills a reintroduced species while engaged in an otherwise lawful activity such as boating, fishing, or wading, then no violation is considered to have been committed.

Questions regarding these reintroductions should be addressed to Geoff Call at the Tennessee Field Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 446 Neal Street, Cookeville, Tennessee 38501, telephone 931/528-6481, Ext. 213, fax 931/528-7075. The PDF version of the Federal Register is available at: http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20071800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2007/pdf/07-4320.pdf

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 97-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System encompassing 548 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management offices, and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.