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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.

Proposed critical habitat and draft economic analysis for yellow lance mussel

What action is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service taking?

The Service is proposing to designate 319 river miles of critical habitat for the yellow lance mussel in 11 units within Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.

What is critical habitat?

Critical habitat is defined by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as the specific geographic areas that contain features essential to the conservation of an endangered or threatened species and that may require special management and protection. It identifies what an animal or plant needs to survive and reproduce by reviewing the best scientific information concerning a species’ current and historical ranges, habitat and biology.

The designation of critical habitat helps ensure federal agencies and the public are aware of the habitat needs of the yellow lance, and proper consultation is conducted by federal agencies when required by law.

What does a critical habitat designation do?

When an area is designated as critical habitat, federal agencies are required by law to ensure that any action they fund, authorize or carry out is not likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of the habitat. This is carried out through consultation with the Service.

The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other conservation area. A critical habitat designation also does not allow the government to access private lands, nor does it require implementation of restoration, recovery or enhancement measures on non-federal lands. It only affects projects that are carried out by a federal agency, need a federal permit, or are being paid for by a federal agency.

There should be little or no impact from the proposed critical habitat designation for the yellow lance on agricultural or timber companies, private landowners or residential development. These stakeholders can follow specific best management practices (BMPs) that protect water quality and prevent forms of pollution, such as preventing excessive amounts of sediment from entering streams. The Service relies on a number of voluntary, non-regulatory conservation programs to provide willing landowners with assurances that help them continue to do work on their lands while also protecting yellow lance habitat.

Who is helping protect the yellow lance?

The Service and state wildlife agencies are working with numerous partners to make ecosystem management a reality, primarily by providing technical guidance and offering development of conservation tools to meet both species and habitat needs in aquatic systems. Land Trusts are targeting key parcels for acquisition, while federal and state biologists survey and monitor species occurrences and ramp up captive propagation and population restoration efforts. This is happening through population augmentation, expansion and reintroductions.

In 2014, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission staff and partners began a concerted effort to propagate the yellow lance in hopes of augmenting existing populations in the Tar and Neuse river basins. In July 2015, 250 yellow lance mussels 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.

What will this critical habitat designation mean for economic activities within the proposed area?

A draft economic analysis was done to evaluate the economic impact of designating critical habitat for the yellow lance. Very little additional regulatory activity would be required for the yellow lance critical habitat designation because conservation measures are already in place for it and for other listed species. Economic activities that occur within the proposed areas include agriculture, forest management, water supply management, development, recreation, transportation and oil and gas development. Environmental compliance for future projects having a federal nexus should not experience time delays greater than two weeks resulting from the designation.

The Service will continue to work with landowners, developers, utility companies, local governments and other partners to develop proactive conservation practices to help conserve the yellow lance and its habitat. For example, the forest industry uses guidelines known as best management practices (BMPs) to help maintain and protect the physical, chemical and biological integrity of waters needed by the yellow lance and other species. The BMPs lay out a framework of sound stewardship that contributes to maintaining high water quality flowing from a forest. Because these guidelines are already common practice, the designation will have a negligible effect on forestry practices.

What areas are proposed as critical habitat for the yellow lance?

The Service is proposing to designate critical habitat in 11 units within seven river basins, all within the historical range of the yellow lance. It includes 10 miles within Montgomery County, Maryland; 118 stream miles within Virginia (Rappahannock, Fauquier, Culpeper, Madison, Orange, Louisa, Craig, Nottoway, Dinwiddie, Lunenburg and Brunswick counties); and 193 stream miles within North Carolina (Granville, Vance, Warren, Halifax, Franklin, Nash, Wake and Johnston counties). There is no unoccupied habitat included in this proposed action.

TABLE 1. Yellow lance critical habitat units

Critical Habitat unit Riparian ownership surrounding units River miles (km)
1. PR1 – Patuxent River State; Private 10 (16)
2. RR1 – Rappahannock Subbasin Private; Easements 44 (71)
3. RR2 – Rapidan Subbasin Private; Easements 9 (14)
4. YR1 – South Anna River Private; Easements 8 (13)
5. JR1 – Johns Creek Private; George Washington and Jefferson National Forest 14 (23)
6. CR1 – Nottoway Subbasin Private; Fort Pickett Military Reservation; Easements 41 (66)
7. TR1 – Tar River Private; Easements 91 (146)
8. TR2 – Sandy/Swift Creek Private; State; Easements 31 (50)
9. TR3 – Fishing Creek Subbasin Private; State; Easements 37 (60)
10. NR1 – Swift Creek Private; Easements 24 (39)
11. NR2 – Little River Private; Easements 10 (16)
Total 319 (514)

How did the Service select units for critical habitat designation?

The Service looked to see where the yellow lance is known to occur based on collections and reports from 2005-2018. Then we determined if the potential critical habitat designation contains physical or biological features that provide for a species’ life history processes and are essential to its conservation. Finally, we designated stream reaches that are occupied by the mussel.

Is there critical habitat that already has been designated for other species in the proposed critical habitat for the yellow lance?

Yes, approximately 154 river miles of the proposed designation overlaps with existing critical habitat designations for four other federally listed species – the James spinymussel, Roanoake logperch, Tar River spinymussel and dwarf wedgemussel.

Are there listed species that coexist with the yellow lance within the proposed critical habitat?

Yes, the habitat that we are proposing to designate as critical for the yellow lance is also home to the James spinymussel, Roanoke logperch, dwarf wedgemussel, and Tar River spinymussel.

What features or elements were identified as important to the yellow lance?

The proposed units include some or all of the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species:

  • Coarse to medium sands and silt-free gravel substrates.
  • Connected instream habitats with stable channels and banks with riffle-run-pool habitats.
  • Clean, moderate flowing water with high dissolved oxygen levels.
  • Connected instream habitats along riffle-run-pools with stable sand and gravel banks.
  • Presence and abundance of fish hosts necessary for recruitment of the yellow lance. Yellow lance larvae need to infest the gills, heads, or fins of fish in order to develop; primary host species are members of the Cyprinidae family, including the white shiner and pinewoods shiner.

What will be the incremental costs of designating critical habitat for the yellow lance?

Because the proposed critical habitat is currently occupied by the species, there will not likely be any incremental conservation efforts that would be identified for the new proposed critical habitat or that is different from those already identified for the mussel. Conservation efforts identified during a consultation would likely not change because of the critical habitat designation, as the measures identified as sufficient to protect the species would likely be sufficient to protect critical habitat. We do not foresee any incremental conservation efforts that would be recommended above, beyond or different from efforts that would be identified in a consultation just addressing the listing of the yellow lance.

Industrial Economics Inc. developed an economic analysis report in which they estimate the increased administrative burden to be less than $240,000 annually.

How do I submit comments on this proposal?

The public is encouraged to review the Draft Economic Analysis and provide comments. Submit your comments by April 6, 2020. A notice of availability of the proposed critical habitat and draft economic analysis will publish in the Federal Register on February 6, 2020. The report and the proposed rules may be obtained by visiting the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov at Docket Number FWS-R4-ES-2018-0094 or by calling 919-856-4520. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800–877–8339.

Who can I contact if I need more information?

For additional information, contact Pete Benjamin, U.S. Fish, and Wildlife Service, Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office, 551 Pylon Drive, Raleigh, NC 27636-3726, by telephone 919-856-4520 extension 11. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800–877–8339.

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