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Tulotoma Snail Highlights Importance of Clean Water for Critters and People
by Denise Rowell
Photo Credit: Paul Johnson, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
On a breezy day in Wetumpka, Alabama, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) biologist Jeff Powell proudly held up a tulotoma snail shell for a local reporter to study. The tulotoma snail (Tulotoma magnifica) had been federally protected since 1991, and the Service announced major improvements to the snail’s population. As a result, the snail is now no longer considered endangered and its official status was improved to threatened. In other words, the snail was no longer in danger of extinction.
Puzzled, the reporter took off his hat to scratch his head. “Um, why should we care about a snail?” he asked politely.
Powell smiled at the question. Indeed, the tulotoma snail is not much bigger than a thumb nail. It is not nearly as charismatic as a bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) or Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus). But tulotoma snails have an important connection to humans: clean, healthy water. The snails can only survive in clean, free-flowing water. The species’ improved status indicates that Alabama’s waters are high quality and healthy—great news for both critters and humans.
“The fact that these snails are making such a comeback means water quality is improving,” says Powell.
So, what happened with Alabama’s water to put this snail on the brink of extinction in the first place?
Over the last 75 years, several large dams were constructed on Alabama’s waterways for generating electricity and facilitating river navigation. While these things are important, the result of these actions has been unnatural river flows, degraded water quality, and most importantly, destruction of sensitive river-bottom habitat that is necessary for freshwater animals, like the tulotoma snail, to survive.
However, environmental protections for endangered species, like those administered through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, have greatly improved habitat where hydroelectric dams are operated. For example, one extremely vulnerable population of snails residing in the Coosa River below Jordan Dam is now secure because of steps taken by the dam’s operator, Alabama Power Company.
Federal biologists are now teaming up with state conservationists and grass roots organizations, such as the Alabama Clean Water Partnership, to implement a watershed management plan that will improve habitat conditions in other areas of the state. Because of these recovery actions, the known range of the tulotoma snail has increased from less than two percent to 10 percent of the species’ historical range since its listing.
“We are so proud to be a part of this effort,” says Allison Jenkins, Director of the Alabama Clean Water Partnership. “Tulotoma snails are environmental indicators of clean water. In Alabama, clean water is not only essential for fish and wildlife. It’s needed for consumption, business, industry, recreation and tourism.”
“The snail is just one spoke in the big wheel,” says Powell. “Together, each one of those spokes forms a system. If you keep pulling out those spokes, the wheel will collapse. The Endangered Species Act is a great tool to help prevent the collapse.”
The Service continues to work with state agencies, the federal community, and the thousands of corporations, business owners, and landowners who make Alabama thrive. In this partnership with a purpose, we can continue and enhance the state’s legacy of rich wildlife and habitat diversity and clean water.
Denise Rowell, a public affairs specialist in the Service’s Daphne Ecological Services Field Office in Alabama, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 251-441-6630.
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