News Release
Southeast Region

 

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Fish and Wildlife Service Invites Comments on Economic Analysis and Proposed Critical Habitat for the Altamaha spinymussel

May 12, 2011

Contacts:

  • Jimmy Rickard, James_Rickard@fws.gov, (706) 613-9493
  • Tom MacKenzie, Tom_Mackenzie@fws.gov, (404) 679-7291

 

Two small mussels sitting on something red

Two Altamaha spinymussels. Credit: Jimmy Rickard, USFWS.

Habitat conditions for the Altamaha spinymussel are worsening, and it has disappeared from the lower portions of the Altamaha River’s three major tributaries, the Ohoopee, Ocmulgee, and Oconee Rivers.

As a result, in the May 12, 2011 Federal Register, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service invites comments on the draft economic analysis of critical habitat for the Altamaha spinymussel, proposed for protection as an endangered species on October 6, 2010. At the same time, the public comment period on the proposed critical habitat designation is reopened for an additional 30 days until June 13, 2011.

The critical habitat designation, proposed on October 6, 2010, will designate approximately 149 Miles (240 kilometers) of main stem river channel as critical habitat in the following Georgia counties: Appling, Ben Hill, Coffee, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Tattnall, Telfair, Toombs, Wayne, and Wheeler. This proposed designation includes the lower Ocmulgee, upper Altamaha, and Ohoopee Rivers.

The draft economic analysis predicts little impact on any sector of the economy resulting from the spinymussel’s proposed critical habitat designation.

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 spinymussel’s habitat.

The Altamaha spinymussel has one to five long spikey spines in 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.

The complete notice on the draft economic analysis and the proposed critical habitat rule can be obtained on the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov at Docket Number FWS-R4-ES-2008-0107, or by calling 706-613-9493 for a copy.

Written comments on the draft economic analysis and the proposed rule should be submitted by one of the following methods: (1) Go the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov and follow the instructions for submitting comments; or, (2) send by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: Document ID Number FWS-R4-ES-2008-0107, Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Suite 222; Arlington, VA, 22203.

If comments have been submitted previously, when the proposed rule was initially announced on October 6, 2010, they do not need to be resubmitted. The Service will incorporate all comments into the public record and fully consider them as the final rule is prepared.

A final decision on whether to designate critical habitat will consider comments and information received by the June 13, 2011 comment-period deadline. All comments will be posted on http://www.regulations.gov, which will include any personal information provided.

Critical habitat is a term defined in the Endangered Species Act. It 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. The designation of critical habitat will help ensure that federal agencies and the public are aware of the Altamaha spinymussel habitat needs and proper consultation is conducted by federal agencies when required by law.

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. It does not allow government or public access to private land. 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.

If the Altamaha spinymussel is listed as proposed under the Endangered Species Act, it will be protected wherever it occurs. Federal agencies are required to consult on any action taken that might affect the species, whether or not critical habitat is designated.

 

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 or http://www.fws.gov/southeast/

 

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Last updated: May 12, 2011