U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Southeast Region News Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                        Vicki M. Boatwright or

January 10, 1997                             Diana M. Hawkins




Five freshwater mussels native to the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia have been added to the Federal endangered species list, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Regional Director Noreen K. Clough announced today.

Listed in the endangered category are the Cumberland elktoe, oyster mussel, Cumberlandian combshell, purple bean, and rough rabbitsfoot.

Clough said that the listing of the five mussels is not expected to have any significant impact on private landowners nor on any water projects. She noted that there are 24 federally listed mussels presently in the Tennessee and Cumberland River systems and that these listed species, many of which have been listed for more than 10 years, have had little effect on ongoing private lands activities such as, logging, agriculture, land development, and home construction. "Based on this historic perspective, the Service does not anticipate that the listing of these additional species will significantly affect private landowners," she said.

The decision to list the species followed a comprehensive study on the impact of the listing on private landowners and consideration of public comments submitted during two public meetings. The decision was published in the Federal Register today.

Clough noted that the ranges of all five species have diminished significantly, and the mussels now exist in relatively small, isolated populations. The Cumberland elktoe inhabits very localized portions of the Cumberland River system in Kentucky and Tennessee, while small numbers of the oyster mussel and Cumberlandian combshell can be found in portions of the Cumberland and Tennessee River basins in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia. The purple bean and rough rabbitsfoot currently survive in a few river reaches in the upper Tennessee River system in Tennessee and Virginia.

These species were eliminated from much of their historic range by impoundments, siltation, and water pollution that has degraded their habitat. Poor land-use practices have contributed to a deterioration of water quality, and their restricted ranges now make these species very vulnerable to toxic chemical spills.

The continental United States has 297 recognized species and subspecies of freshwater mussels, and Native Americans once made extensive use of the mussels or their shells for food, tools, and adornments. In spite of this extensive exploitation, the mussel fauna remained unchanged for centuries prior to European settlement. Over the past 200 years, however, mussels have been declining in diversity and abundance because of human alterations to aquatic habitats.

Mussels have been called "Mother Nature's 911 call" because they are generally the first animals to be lost when a river's water quality deteriorates. In the 20th century, mussels have suffered a greater decline than any other wide-ranging animal group in the United States.

Numerous programs are currently underway to restore native mussel fauna: (1) Federal, State, and private funds are being provided to cooperating landowners to restore stream-side habitats in important mussel streams; (2) mussel propagation technology is being developed; (3) mussels are being reintroduced into historic habitats; and (4) research is being conducted to better understand how human activities impact mussel populations.

Clough said that now that these five mussels are federally listed, they will be eligible for Endangered Species Act funding for conservation and recovery activities. Listing, she said, draws attention to their plight and encourages Federal and State agencies, local governments, conservation organizations, and private citizens to take an active role in their protection.


Release #97-02

1997 News Releases

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