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A group of about a dozen small triangular shellfish in shallow water.
Information icon Yellow lance in the Tar River in North Carolina. Photo by Sarah McRae, USFWS.

Final rule to list the yellow lance mussel as threatened

How does the final listing rule differ from the proposed listing rule?

In preparing this final rule, we reviewed and fully considered 22 public comments on the proposed rule. This final rule incorporates minor changes to our proposed listing based on the comments we received. The Species Status Assessment report report was updated based on comments and some additional information provided; many small, non-substantive changes and corrections were made throughout the document including ensuring consistency of colors on maps, providing details about data sources, updating references in threats section, and minor clarifications. However, the information we received in response to the proposed rule did not change our determination that the yellow lance is a threatened species.

Is the Service considering further action regarding the yellow lance?

The Service anticipates it will propose a special rule under the ESA’s Section 4(d) as well as propose the designation of critical habitat for the yellow lance later this year. For threatened fish and wildlife, the Service may use the flexibility provided under Section 4(d) to tailor the protections of the Act to what it determines necessary and advisable for the conservation of the species, like this mussel. This targeted approach can reduce regulatory burdens by allowing some activities that do not significantly harm the species to continue, while focusing our efforts on the threats that slow the species’ recovery.

What are the threats to the yellow lance?

Sediment, pesticides and municipal and industrial wastes have been flowing into the rivers and degrading the water quality the yellow lance needs to thrive. In addition to poor water quality, loss of stream flow, riparian and instream habitat fragmentation, and deterioration of instream habitats add pressure to the yellow lance mussel. These threats are worsened by development and changes in climate patterns.

What are the yellow lance habitat requirements?

The yellow lance is a sand-loving species often found buried deep in clean, coarse to medium sand, although it can sometimes be found in gravel substrates. Yellow lances often are moved with shifting sand and eventually settle in the sand at the downstream end of stable sand and gravel bars. This species depends on clean, moderate flowing water with high dissolved oxygen. This species is found in medium-sized rivers to smaller streams.

What are the yellow lance current and historical ranges?

Historically, eight former populations of the yellow lance ranged from the Patuxent River Basin in Maryland to the Potomac River Basin in Maryland/Virginia, the Rappahannock, York, James, and Chowan River basins in Virginia, and the Tar and Neuse River basins in North Carolina.

A map showing river basins historically occupied by yellow lance in MD, VA, and NC.
Yellow lance historical range. Map by Sarah McRae, USFWS.

Currently, the Potomac population is presumed to be extirpated, and 86 percent of the streams that remain part of the current species’ range are estimated to be in poor or very poor condition.

A map showing yellow lance occurrence data along rivers in MD, VA, and NC.
Yellow lance current range. Map by Sarah McRae, USFWS.

What kinds of activities could help conserve the yellow lance?

  1. Don’t dump chemicals into streams and rivers.
  2. Report spills to state environmental protection agencies.
  3. Use certified best management practices for sediment and erosion control during planting, harvest, construction, and other projects.
  4. Start a watershed group or assist in stream and water quality monitoring efforts.
  5. Plant trees and other native woody vegetation along stream banks to help restore and preserve water quality.
  6. Replace or remove culverts and low-water bridge crossings that are barriers to passage for the host fishes that carry yellow lance larvae.

What has been done to conserve the yellow lance?

The Service and state wildlife agencies are working with numerous partners to meet both species and habitat needs from Maryland to North Carolina. In 2014, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission staff members and partners began a concerted effort to propagate the yellow lance in hopes of augmenting wild populations. In July 2015, 270 yellow lances were stocked into Sandy Creek, a tributary of the Tar River. Annual monitoring to evaluate growth and survival is planned, and additional propagation and stocking efforts will continue in upcoming years.

Habitat restoration also is underway, primarily by providing technical guidance and offering development of conservation tools to meet the needs of yellow lance and its habitat in aquatic systems from Maryland to North Carolina. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service is working with agricultural producers to install riparian buffers along streams. Land Trusts are targeting key parcels for acquisition, federal and state biologists are surveying and monitoring species occurrences, and recently we are experimenting with captive propagation and species population restoration in the wild.

What happens next?

The Service is developing a separate rule proposing designation of critical habitat for the yellow lance later this year. The Service will seek implementing captive propagation and other conservation measures that will recover the species.

Who should you contact for more information?

For more information regarding the listing of the yellow lance, please contact Sarah McRae at, 919-856-4520 (extension 16), or write to Raleigh Field Office, P.O. Box 33726 Raleigh, North Carolina 27636-3726. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339. Also, please visit the Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office webpage.

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