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Critical Habitat Designated for Carolina heelsplitter


July 2, 2002

Jim Rothschild, FWS, 404/679-7291, Cell-770/310-2304

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today announced its final decision to designate critical habitat for the federally endangered Carolina heelsplitter, Lasmigona decorata, an endangered freshwater mussel. This action, published in the Federal Register on July 2, incorporates a thorough review of all available information on the Carolina heelsplitter and comments received in response to the proposal to designate critical habitat for the species and the accompanying draft economic analysis.

The final designation of critical habitat for the Carolina heelsplitter identifies 92.2 river miles including portions of Goose, Duck (a tributary to Goose Creek) and Waxhaw Creeks, in Union County, North Carolina; Lynches River in Lancaster, Chesterfield, and Kershaw Counties, South Carolina; Flat Creek (a tributary to the Lynches River) and Gills Creek in Lancaster County, South Carolina; Turkey Creek in Edgefield and McCormick Counties, South Carolina; Mountain and Beaverdam Creeks (tributaries to Turkey Creek) in Edgefield County, South Carolina; and Cuffytown Creek in Greenwood and McCormick Counties, South Carolina.

"This critical habitat designation will help educate the public about the needs of the Carolina heelsplitter and help ensure its future recovery by identifying where conservation actions would be most effective," said Sam D. Hamilton, the Service's Regional Director for the Southeast Region.

Critical habitat is a designation that refers to specific geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and that may require special management considerations. Although critical habitat identifies important areas for a species' conservation, it does not set up a preserve or refuge, nor does it affect activities on private lands unless federal funding or a federal permit are involved. The only regulatory consequence of this designation is that federal agencies must consult with the Service before undertaking actions, issuing permits, or providing funding for activities that might destroy or adversely modify critical habitat.

The Carolina heelsplitter is a medium sized freshwater mussel, reaching almost 4.5 inches in length, with a greenish brown to dark brown shell. It currently has a fragmented distribution but historically was known from several locations within the Catawba and Pee Dee River systems in North Carolina and the Pee Dee and Savannah River systems, and possibly the Saluda River system, in South Carolina. Recent collection records indicate that there are only six surviving populations of the Carolina heelsplitter —two in North Carolina and four in South Carolina. All six of the surviving populations are small in number.

Several factors adversely affecting the water and habitat quality of creeks and rivers are believed to have contributed to the decline and loss of populations of the Carolina heelsplitter and threaten the remaining populations. These factors include pollutants from wastewater discharges (sewage treatment plants and industrial discharges); habitat loss and alteration associated with impoundments and other stream alteration activities; channel and streambank scouring associated with increased stormwater run-off and the run-off of silt, fertilizers, pesticides, and other pollutants from poorly implemented land-use activities. The Service listed the Carolina heelsplitter as an endangered species in 1993.

Copies of the final critical habitat designation, the draft economic analysis and the addemdum to the economic analysis are available at Additional information may be obtained from the Asheville Field Office by contacting Mr. John Fridell at 828/258-2929, Ext. 225 or e-mail

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses nearly 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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NOTE: You can view our releases or subscribe to receive them -- via e-mail -- at the Service's Southeast Regional home page at Our national home page is at:

Atlanta, GA 30345

Phone: 404/679-7289 Fax: 404/679-7286

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