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Critical Habitat Proposed for Five Freshwater Mussels


June 3, 2003

Tom MacKenzie
, (404) 679-7291
Rob Tawes, (931) 528-6481

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing that portions of rivers and streams, totaling some 544 miles in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky, be designated as critical habitat for five federally-listed freshwater mussels. All five were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, on Jan. 10, 1997. At that time, the Service determined that critical habitat was not prudent, and therefore did not designate it for these mussels.

The Service is making this proposal in response to an order by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Court of Tennessee to submit for publication a proposed critical habitat determination by May 19, 2003. The Service is currently seeking public comments on this proposed designation until Sept. 3, 2003.

The five mussel species in question are the endangered Cumberland elktoe, the oyster mussel, Cumberlandian combshell, purple bean, and rough rabbitsfoot mussels. River and stream segments identified in the critical habitat proposal for the five mussels include:

  • a section of the Duck River in Maury and Marshall Counties, Tennessee,
  • a section of Bear Creek in Colbert County, Alabama, and Tishomingo County, Mississippi,
  • a section of the Obed River in Cumberland and Morgan Counties, Tennessee,
  • a section of the Powell River in Claiborne and Hancock Counties, Tennessee and Lee County, Virginia,
  • portions of the Clinch River drainage in Hancock County, Tennessee, and Scott, Russell and Tazewell Counties, Virginia,
  • a section of the Nolichucky River in Hamblen and Cocke Counties, Tennessee,
  • a section of Beech Creek in Hawkins County, Tennessee,
  • a section of Rock Creek in McCreary County, Kentucky,
  • portions of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River drainage in McCreary County, Kentucky, and Scott, Fentress, and Morgan Counties, Tennessee,
  • a section of Buck Creek in Pulaski County, Kentucky,
  • a section of Sinking Creek in Laurel County, Kentucky,
  • a section of Marsh Creek in McCreary County, Kentucky, and
  • a section of Laurel Fork of the Cumberland River in Claiborne County, Tennessee, and Whitley County, Kentucky.

For a detailed map showing the areas, please visit:

Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act identifying geographic areas that are essential for the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and may require special management considerations. The designation of critical habitat does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve, or other conservation area. It does not allow government or public access to private lands.

This critical habitat designation was completed in response to a lawsuit filed by the Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project.

In 30 years of implementing the Endangered Species Act, the Service has found that the designation of critical habitat provides little additional protection to most listed species, while preventing the Service from using scarce conservation resources for activities with greater conservation benefits.

In almost all cases, recovery of listed species will come through voluntary cooperative partnerships, not regulatory measures such as critical habitat. Habitat is also protected through cooperative measures under the Endangered Species Act including Habitat Conservation Plans, Safe Harbor Agreements, Candidate Conservation Agreements and state programs. In addition, voluntary partnership programs such as the Service’s Private Stewardship Grants and Partners for Fish and Wildlife program also restore habitat. Habitat for endangered species is provided on many national wildlife refuges, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service an state wildlife management areas.

As listed species under the Endangered Species Act, the mussels are already protected wherever they occur and Federal agencies are required to consult on any action taken that might affect the species.

When determining areas to designate as critical habitat, the Service considers physical and biological habitat features that are essential to the conservation of the species. These features include space for individual and population growth and for normal behavior; cover or shelter; food, water, air, light, minerals, or other nutritional or physiological requirements; sites for spawning and rearing offspring; and habitats that are protected from disturbances or are representative of the historic geographical and ecological distributions of a species.

As part of designating critical habitat, the Service also takes into account the economic impact, as well as any other relevant impacts, of specifying any particular area as critical habitat. The Service may exclude any area from critical habitat if it is determined that the benefits of excluding it outweigh the benefits of specifying the area as a part of critical habitat, unless it is determined that the failure to designate the area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species. The Service is preparing a draft economic analysis and will make it available for review and comment.

A complete description of the proposed critical habitat designation is being published in the Federal Register today. Copies of the proposal and maps are available by contacting Rob Tawes, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 446 Neal Street, Cookeville, Tennessee 38501; phone 931-528-6481, or by visiting:

Public hearings on this proposal will be held if requested. The Service will consider comments and information received by Sept. 3, 2003. Written comments and information on this proposal should be mailed, faxed, or delivered in person to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Attn: Rob Tawes, 446 Neal Street, Cookeville, Tennessee 38501; Fax: 931-528-7075, or sent by electronic mail to

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 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 81 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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