60-Day Public Comment Period Open Through July 14, 2014
On May 14, the Service reopened the public comment period for 60 days on the proposed designations of critical habitat for the Neosho mucket and Rabbitsfoot under the Endangered Species Act. Both species are freshwater mussels found in river systems in the eastern half of the United States. The public is also invited to comment on the draft environmental assessment and draft economic analysis of the proposed critical habitat designations. The deadline for all comments is July 14, 2014.
This is the fourth round of public comment on the proposed critical habitat designations since the Service announced them in September 2012. The first three public comment periods lasted a total of 150 days, during which the Service received 49 comments. Those comments, and more recent ones, can be viewed at http://bit.ly/twomusselscomments and http://bit.ly/twomusselscomments2.
- The proposed rule for the critical habitat designations is available here on Regulations.gov, Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2012–0031.
- The draft economic analysis and the draft environmental assessment is also available on Regulations.gov, Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2013–0007.
- Written comments may be submitted via the website or by mailing them to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R4–ES–2013– 0007; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203. Comments provided during the previous comment periods do not need to be resubmitted as those are already part of the administrative record.
History and Location
Map of the historical and current range of the species.
Map of all designated critical habitat in rivers and streams in Arkansas.
The rabbitsfoot is a freshwater mussel found in rivers and streams in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and West Virginia. We estimate that it has been lost from about 64 percent of its historical range. While 51 of 140 historical populations are still present, only 11 populations are viable; 23 populations are at risk of extirpation and 17 populations do not seem to be reproducing at a level that can sustain the populations. Most of the existing rabbitsfoot populations are marginal to small and isolated.
Rabbitsfoot mussels prefer shallow areas with sand and gravel along the bank and next to shoals, which provide a refuge in fast-moving rivers. Most freshwater mussels live burrowed in mixed mud, sand, and gravel at the bottom of rivers and streams. Some are adapted to the quiet water and muddy depths of lakes, ponds, and reservoirs.
For the rabbitsfoot, the Service is proposing to designate critical habitat in 35 stream segments where the mussel is found, comprising approximately 1,655 river miles in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.
All areas proposed as critical habitat are occupied by the mussel.
Critical habitat is a geographic area containing features essential to the survival of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management consideration or protection. The Service is required under the ESA to consider whether critical habitat is needed for a species’ recovery.
Designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. It does not affect activities on the land unless they are funded by federal dollars.
If federal funds are involved in a project in the area, the government agency involved will need to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help landowners avoid, reduce, or mitigate potential impacts to the species or modify its critical habitat.
- Fact Sheet: Critical Habitat in Arkansas (PDF)
- Frequently Asked Questions: Proposed Critical Habitat Rule for the Neosho Mucket and Rabbitsfoot (PDF)
- Map of critical habitat designed for freshwater species in Arkansas (PDF)
- Proposed Rule in the Federal Register: Proposed Endangered Status for the Neosho Mucket, Threatened Status for the Rabbitsfoot, and Designation of Critical Habitat for Both Species.
Why Should You Care?
Mussels are monitors of the health of our waters. They are natural filters and serve as a food source for numerous species of wildlife. They are part of our American cultural history, and they aid in the preservation of biodiversity.
The presence of diverse and reproducing populations of mussels indicate a healthy aquatic system which means good fishing, good water quality for waterfowl and other wildlife species, as well as insurance that our water is safe for our use (swimming and drinking). Conversely, when mussel populations are at risk, it indicates problems for other fish and wildlife species, and people, too.
Mussels are natural filters, feeding on algae and plankton that help clean the water. Mussels are also an important food source for many species of wildlife including otters, raccoon, muskrat, herons, egrets, and some fish.
The study of mussels, their natural history, and habitat requirements provides important lessons on the interconnectedness of the aquatic system and how species adapt to their ecosystem.
Mussels played an important role in the cultural history of prehistoric and recent native people of Arkansas. They were used as food and the shells were used for ornamentation, tools, and as a commodity for trade. Indian shell middens (the piles of shells that Native Americans left behind) extend for miles along sites of old villages and encampments along rivers. Mussels were used for buttons prior to World War II. They are still used in the cultural pearl industry.
Mussels play an important role in our aquatic ecosystems. Considering that less than 20 mussel species are found in most other countries of the world, our North American rivers and streams are truly “rich” with close to 300 species. Arkansas has more native freshwater mussel species than any state west of the Mississippi River!
Fact Sheets and Additional Information
- Fact Sheet (developed for Arkansas audiences): Two Arkansas Mussels (PDF)
- Arkansas: Species listed under the Endangered Species Act and Pending Evaluations of Other Species (PDF)
- Draft Economic Analysis of Critical Habitat for Neosho Mucket and Rabbitsfoot (PDF)
- Draft Environmental Assessment of Designation of Critical Habitat for Neosho mucket and Rabbitsfoot Mussels (PDF)
A Recovery Plan is currently in development for this species.
- January 10, 2014: Proposed Critical Habitat in Arkansas for Two Mussel Species and Next Steps
- September 16, 2013: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lists Neosho Mucket as Endangered and Rabbitsfoot as Threatened
- August 26, 2013: Service Re-opens Review of Draft Economic Analysis for the Proposed Critical Habitat Designation for Two Freshwater Mussels
- May 8, 2013: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Estimates Economic Impacts and Releases Draft Environmental Assessment of Critical Habitat Designation for Neosho Mucket and Rabbitsfoot
- October 15, 2012: Service Proposes to Protect Neosho Mucket and Rabbitsfoot under the Endangered Species Act; Agency Seeks Information from the Public, Scientific Community before making final decision
Federal Register Documents
All Federal Register documentation for the neosho mucket is accessible via the Enivornmental Online Conservation System (ECOS) here: http://ecos.fws.gov/speciesProfile/profile/displayAllDocuments!fedreg.action?spcode=F03X
Need More Information?
Our Arkansas Ecological Services Office in Conway, Arkansas is the lead office for this species. Please call 501-513-4470.