The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the final determination to protect the Atlantic pigtoe, a freshwater mussel native to rivers of the Atlantic seaboard, as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service also designated critical habitat and finalized a 4(d) rule that tailors protections.
ESA protections for the Atlantic pigtoe will help support its conservation and recovery by generating greater awareness about threats and conservation opportunities and inspiring diverse partnerships on its behalf. Primary threats to the freshwater mussel include pollution, sedimentation and dams.
Critical habitat is defined by the ESA as the specific geographic areas that contain features essential to the conservation of listed species and that may require special management and protection. Critical habitat designation does not affect land ownership or establish a wildlife refuge, reserve, preserve or other conservation areas. A designation of critical habitat does not affect non-federal lands unless federal funds, permits or activities are involved.
Only areas currently occupied by the mussel within the James, Chowan, Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, Cape Fear and Yadkin-Pee Dee river basins in Virginia and North Carolina are designated critical habitat. All streams designated as critical habitat are navigable waters held in public trust. Ownership of theland adjacent to the designated critical habitat is a mix of private lands and conservation parcels, including easements as well as state-owned game lands and parks.
A 4(d) rule is one of the many tools of the ESA for protecting species listed as threatened. Typically, the Service uses 4(d) rules to incentivize positive conservation actions and streamline the regulatory process for minor impacts. The 4(d) rule for the Atlantic pigtoe allows for species restoration efforts by state wildlife agencies, surveys, and the relocation of mussels prior to stream and channel restoration activities. It also clarifies the bank stabilization and forestry activities that are included under the 4(d) rule.
Diverse and reproducing freshwater mussel populations are indicators of healthy streams and rivers and safe water resources, which benefit both people and wildlife. As filter feeders,mussels remove sediments, algae and pollutants from water, with individual mussels filtering several gallons of water per day.
The Service held a public comment period when it proposed listing the Atlantic pigtoe in October 2018. A second public comment period was held for the revised proposal in September 2020. The rule finalizing the Atlantic pigtoe listing as a threatened species, designating critical habitat and special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA becomes effective on December 17, 2021.
The rule, comments and materials the Service received, as well as supporting documentation used in preparing the rule, are available for public inspection on regulations.gov; search for Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2018-0046. Comments, materials, and documentation can be made available by contacting: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office by writing to P.O. Box 33726 Raleigh, NC 27636-3726 or calling telephone 919-856-4520. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877–8339.