Critical Habitat Designated for Seven Freshwater Mussels
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today a final rule designating about 1,200 miles of stream critical habitat for seven species of freshwater mussels protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The seven species are the endangered fat threeridge, shinyrayed pocketbook, Gulf moccasinshell, Ochlockonee moccasinshell, and oval pigtoe, and the threatened Chipola slabshell and purple bankclimber.
Three of the mussel species have been in the news recently because they are found in the Apalachicola River below Jim Woodruff Dam. The dam’s operation plan, which has been in place since 1989, calls for minimum flows to support a variety of purposes, such as water supply and hydropower generation. These flows have been the subject of interest because of severe drought conditions being experienced in parts of the southeast.
“This designation does not alter how we work with the Corps of Engineers on drought issues that affect their water management,” said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We will continue working with them on management options that protect water supply and minimize harm to the listed species and their habitat.”
The Service designated 11 units along portions of river and stream channels in four northeast Gulf of Mexico drainages as critical habitat for the seven species. These include the Econfina Creek drainage in Florida, the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River drainage in Alabama, Florida and Georgia, the Ochlockonee River drainage in Florida and Georgia, and the Suwannee River drainage in Florida.
When specifying an area as critical habitat, the Service considers economic and other relevant impacts of the designation. The specific incremental impacts of critical habitat designation alone over the next 20 years are forecast to be $501,000 (discounted at three percent). These incremental impacts are due to additional administrative effort in the consultation process between Federal agencies. The analysis also looks at baseline impacts that would have occurred regardless of the critical habitat designation but that are related to water management and use that may affect the mussels. These impacts range from $62.3 million to $101.0 million over the next 20 years (discounted at three percent).
A complete description of the critical habitat designation was published in the Federal Register yesterday. Copies of the final rule and maps are available by contacting Jerry Ziewitz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1601 Balboa Avenue, Panama City, Florida 32405 (telephone 850/769-0552, extension 223; facsimile 850/763-2177). The final rule and economic analysis are available on our website at http://www.fws.gov/panamacity/.
The Service was required to complete the process to designate critical habitat for the seven freshwater mussels by October 31, 2007, under a settlement agreement stemming from a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Critical habitat is a term in the ESA identifying geographic areas containing features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species that may require special management considerations or protection.
Federal agencies that undertake, fund or permit activities that may affect critical habitat are required to consult with the Service to ensure such actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.
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 breeding and rearing offspring; and habitats that are protected from disturbances or are representative of the historic geographical and ecological distributions of a species.
As listed species under the ESA, the seven mussels are already protected wherever they occur, and federal agencies are required to consult on any action they take that might affect the species. The designation of critical habitat will help the species by ensuring that federal agencies and the public are aware of the habitat needs of this species.
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. Visit the Service’s website at http://www.fws.gov and http://www.fws.gov/southeast.
For more information -- Seven Mussels final critical habitat designation
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