U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Endangered Status and Critical Habitat for the Altamaha Spinymussel
October 6, 2010
Jimmy Rickard, 706/613-9493, ext.223
Tom MacKenzie, 404/679-7291
Southeastern Georgia’s prickly mussel, the Altamaha spinymussel, is being proposed for protection as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today. The Altamaha spinymussel has been a candidate for listing as an endangered species under the ESA since 2001.
The species is only found in the Altamaha River drainage. In addition, the Service proposes to designate about 149 miles of mainstem river channel as critical habitat in Appling, Ben Hill, Coffee, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Tattnall, Telfair, Toombs, Wayne, and Wheeler Counties.
Under the ESA, an endangered species is any species which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The spinymussel is being proposed for listing with critical habitat because it has suffered severe declines in population numbers and distribution over several decades, coupled with no known reproductive success in recent years. In addition, little is known about the species’ host fish during reproduction and its status. Host fish help mussels form during their larval stage. However, the spinymussel’s host fish could potentially be threatened by the introduction of non-native species, such as the flathead catfish and Asian clam, into the Altamaha River.
“The Service has assessed the best commercial and scientific information available to determine the Altamaha spinymussel’s current status and threats,” says Cindy Dohner, the Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “Based on the immediate and ongoing significant threats to this species and the fact that there is no evidence that the species is reproducing, we consider the species to be in danger of extinction.”
The water quality in the Altamaha River has declined because of sediment from forestry, agriculture, and other land-clearing activities. Dam operations, water withdrawals, drought; and contaminants also have degraded the species’ habitat. The spinymussel has disappeared from the lower portions of the Altamaha River’s three major tributaries, the Ohoopee, Ocmulgee, and Oconee Rivers.
The Altamaha spinymussel has one to five long spikey spines on each of its shells. These spines start growing on a juvenile, can be crooked or straight, and may reach an inch or more in length by the time an individual is fully grown. The spines make the spinymussel one of Georgia’s most distinctive species.
Written comments on the proposal to list the Altamaha River spinymussel as an endangered species with critical habitat will be accepted by December 6, 2010.
Comments should be submitted by one of the following methods:
- Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the instructions for submitting comments on Docket No. FWS-R4-ES-2008-0107.
- U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2008-0107, Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 North Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203. E-mail or faxes will not be accepted. All comments, including personal information, will be available on http://www.regulations.gov.
The proposed rule and maps can be found at http://www.fws.gov/athens. Printed copies of the proposed rule and maps also are available by contacting Jimmy Rickard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Ecological Services Field Office, 105 Westpark Drive, Suite D, Athens, Georgia 30606, telephone 706/613-9493, extension 223; facsimile 706/613-6059. Comments must be received or postmarked December 6, 2010. Public hearings on this proposal must be requested by November 22, 2010.
The ESA makes it illegal to kill, harm or otherwise "take" a listed species. The ESA also requires all federal agencies to ensure actions they authorize, fund, or undertake do not jeopardize the existence of listed species, and directs the Service to work with federal agencies and other partners to develop and carry out recovery efforts for those species. Listing also focuses attention on the needs of the species, encouraging conservation efforts by other federal, state, and local agencies, conservation groups, and other organizations and individuals.
Federal agencies that undertake, fund or permit activities that may affect endangered species are required to consult with the Service to ensure such actions do not adversely affect or jeopardize the continued existence of the species.
In addition, the proposed critical habitat designation for the Altamaha River spinymussel in the
mainstem of the Altamaha River does not affect land ownership, establish a refuge or preserve, and has no impact on private landowners taking actions on their land that do not require federal funding or permits. A critical habitat designation identifies geographic areas containing features essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species, and which may require special management considerations or protection.
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 websites at http://www.fws.gov/southeast/
NOTE: You can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail -- at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at http://www.fws.gov/southeast/news. Atlanta, GA 30345, Phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286. Our national home page is at: http://www.fws.gov/news/newsreleases/