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Critical Habitat Proposed for Eleven Freshwater Mussels


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 26, 2003

Contact:
Elsie Davis, (404) 679-7107
Connie Light Dickard, (601) 321-1121


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing that portions of rivers and streams, totaling some 1,093 miles in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee, be designated as critical habitat for eleven federally-listed freshwater mussels. All eleven mussels were listed March 17, 1993, under the Endangered Species Act. The Service did not propose critical habitat at the time of listing because insufficient information was available then on the distribution and the biological needs of these species.

The eleven mussel species with proposed critical habitat are the threatened finelined pocketbook, orangenacre mucket, and Alabama moccasinshell and the endangered Coosa moccasinshell, ovate clubshell, southern clubshell, dark pigtoe, southern pigtoe, triangular kidneyshell, upland combshell, and southern acornshell.

Portions of the rivers and streams included in the critical habitat proposal for the eleven mussels are the:

  • Tombigbee River drainage in Itawamba, Monroe and Lowndes counties in Mississippi and Lamar, Pickens, Greene, Sumter and Tuscaloosa counties in Alabama;
  • Black Warrior River drainage in Tuscaloosa, Fayette, Winston, Lawrence, Blount and Jefferson counties in Alabama;
  • Alabama River drainage in Dallas, Lowndes, and Autauga counties in Alabama;
  • Cahaba River drainage in Bibb, Jefferson and Shelby counties in Alabama;
  • Tallapoosa River drainage in Macon and Cleburne counties in Alabama plus Haralson and Paulding counties in Georgia;
  • Coosa River drainage in Coosa, Clay, Shelby, Talladega, Calhoun, Cherokee, St. Clair and Cleburne counties in Alabama and Murray, Whitfield, Gordon and Floyd counties in Georgia plus Bradley and Polk counties in Tennessee.

"This critical habitat proposal will inform the public of areas that are important to the species' recovery and identify where conservation actions benefitting the mussels would be most effective," said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Service is making this proposal in response to an order by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Court of Tennessee to submit for publication a proposed critical habitat determination by March 17, 2003 and a final determination by March 17, 2004. The Service is currently seeking public comments on this proposed designation until June 24, 2003.

Critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas that are essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and which may require special management considerations or protection. A critical habitat designation does not set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where Federal funding or a Federal permit is involved.

As listed species under the Endangered Species Act, the mussels are already protected wherever they occur and Federal agencies are required to consult on any action taken that might affect the species. The designation of critical habitat will help the mussel species by ensuring Federal agencies and the public are aware of the mussels' habitat needs and that proper consultation is conducted by Federal agencies when required by law.

When determining areas to designate as critical habitat, the Service considers physical and biological habitat features that are essential to the conservation of the species. These features include space for individual and population growth and for normal behavior; cover or shelter; food, water, air, light, minerals, or other nutritional or physiological requirements; sites for spawning and rearing offspring; and habitats that are protected from disturbances or are representative of the historic geographical and ecological distributions of a species.

As part of designating critical habitat, the Service also takes into account the economic impact, as well as any other relevant impacts, of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. The Service may exclude any area from critical habitat if it is determined that the benefits of excluding it outweigh the benefits of specifying the area as a part of critical habitat, unless it is determined that the failure to designate the area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species. The Service will publish an announcement in the Federal Register to notify the public when the draft economic analysis is available for review and comment.

A complete description of the proposed critical habitat designation has been published in the Federal Register today. Copies of the proposal and maps are available on our Internet site: http://southeast.fws.gov/hotissues or by contacting Connie Light Dickard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Suite A, Jackson, MS 39213; phone 601-321-1121.

Public hearings on this proposal will be held if requested. The Service will consider comments and information received by June 24, 2003. Written comments and information on the mussels' proposal should be mailed, faxed, or delivered in person to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: Paul Hartfield, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Suite A, Jackson, MS 39213; Fax: 601-965-4043, or sent by electronic mail to paul_hartfield@fws.gov

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 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. Visit the Service's website at http://www.fws.gov.


For more information about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visit our home page at http://southeast.fws.gov/ or http://www.fws.gov/.



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