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Critical Habitat Designated for
Appalachian Elktoe



September 27, 2002

Tom MacKenzie, 404/679-7291

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will designate critical habitat for the federally endangered Appalachian elktoe, a freshwater mussel. This final action, published in today’s Federal Register, incorporates a thorough review of all available information on the Appalachian elktoe, as well as public comments received in response to the proposal to designate critical habitat for the species and an accompanying draft economic analysis.

A critical habitat designation identifies key geographic areas considered essential for the conservation of an endangered or threatened species that may require special management considerations. These areas are not considered wildlife preserves or refuges, and the designation will not affect activities on private land unless federal funding or a federal permit is involved. The only regulatory consequence of this designation is that federal agencies must consult with the Service before undertaking actions, issuing permits or providing funding for activities that might destroy or adversely modify critical habitat.

  • The final designation of critical habitat for the Appalachian elktoe identifies approximately 144 river miles in the following locations:

    • Little Tennessee River in Swain and Macon Counties, North Carolina;
    • Tuckasegee River in Jackson and Swain Counties, North Carolina;
    • Cheoah River in Graham County, North Carolina;
    • Little River in Transylvania County, North Carolina;
    • West Fork Pigeon River and the Pigeon River in Haywood County, North Carolina;
    • South Toe River and Cane River in Yancey County, North Carolina;
    • North Toe River and Toe River in Yancey and Mitchell Counties, North Carolina; and
    • Nolichucky River in Yancey and Mitchell Counties, North Carolina, and Unicoi County, Tennessee.

“This critical habitat designation will aid the public in understanding the needs of this rare mussel by identifying where conservation actions would be most effective,” said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service's Southeast Regional Director. “This designation, along with other conservation measures, will help ensure the future recovery of the Appalachian elktoe.”

The Appalachian elktoe is a medium-sized freshwater mussel that has a yellowish-brown to greenish-black colored shell and reaches about 4 inches in length. It is known to exist only in the mountain streams in the upper Tennessee River system, in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee.

Reservoir construction, the run-off and discharge of sediment and pollutants, and other factors adversely affecting water and habitat quality have greatly reduced the species’ numbers and distribution. The Appalachian elktoe presently survives only in scattered pockets of suitable habitat in portions of the Little Tennessee River system, Pigeon River system, the Little River in North Carolina, and the Nolichucky River system in North Carolina and Tennessee.

Although the complete historic range of the Appalachian elktoe is unknown, available information suggests that the species once lived in the majority of the rivers and larger creeks of the upper Tennessee River system in North Carolina, with the possible exceptions of the Hiwassee and Watauga River systems. In Tennessee, the Appalachian elktoe’s only known current range is the Nolichucky River.

Copies of the final critical habitat designation, the draft economic analysis and the addendum to the economic analysis are available at Additional information may be obtained from the Asheville Field Office by contacting Mr. John Fridell at 828/258-3939, Ext. 225, or E-mail

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 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 538 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, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.


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