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Critical Habitat Designated for 11 Freshwater Mussels

July 1, 2004

Contacts: Connie Light Dickard: 601-321-1121
Tom MacKenzie: 404-679-7291

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated portions of rivers and streams, totaling some 1,093 miles in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee, as critical habitat for 11 Federally listed freshwater mussel species. The Service did not designate critical habitat at the time of listing due to insufficient information on the distribution and the biological needs of these species.

All 11 species were listed under the Endangered Species Act on March 17, 1993. Three species – the fine-lined pocketbook, orange-nacre mucket and Alabama moccasinshell – were listed as threatened. Eight species – the Coosa moccasinshell, ovate clubshell, southern clubshell, dark pigtoe, southern pigtoe, triangular kidneyshell, upland combshell and southern acornshell – were listed as endangered.

The areas designated as critical habitat include portions of rivers and streams in:

• Tombigbee River drainage in Itawamba, Monroe and Lowndes counties in Mssissippi and Lamar, Pickens, Greene, Sumter and Tuscaloosa counties in Alabama;
• Black Warrior River drainage in Tuscaloosa, Fayette, Winston, Lawrence, Blount and Jefferson counties in Alabama;
• Alabama River drainage in Dallas, Lowndes and Autauga counties in Alabama;
Cahaba River drainage in Bibb, Jefferson and Shelby counties in Alabama;
• Tallapoosa River drainage in Lee, Macon and Cleburne counties in Alabama plus Haralson and Paulding counties in Georgia;
• Coosa River drainage in Elmore, Coosa, Clay, Shelby, Talladega, Calhoun, Cherokee, St. Clair and Cleburne counties in Alabama and Murray, Whitfield, Gordon and Floyd counties in Georgia plus Bradley and Polk counties in Tennessee.

“This critical habitat designation informs the public of areas that are essential to the species’ conservation,” said Southeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sam D. Hamilton. “It also identifies where conservation actions benefiting the mussels would be most effective.”

Critical habitat is a term in the Endangered Species Act. It identifies geographic areas that contain features 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 and state wildlife management areas.

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 exclusion outweigh the benefits of inclusion, unless it is determined that the failure to designate the area as critical habitat will result in the extinction of the species.

Estimated economic costs associated with listing and critical habitat designation for the 11 freshwater mussel species range between approximately $2,000,000 and $13,600,000 per year in potential economic impact. The recovery of these 11 mussels is unlikely in the near future due to the extent of their decline and the degree of fragmentation and isolation of their habitats. Therefore, the Service has concluded that all 26 units are essential to the conservation of these species and have identified no areas where the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of this designation.

A complete description of the critical habitat designation has been published in the Federal Register today. A copy of the final rule and final economic analysis can be obtained by visiting our website at: or by contacting Connie Light Dickard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 6578 Dogwood View Parkway, Suite A, Jackson, MS 39213; phone 601-321-1121.

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 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 63 Fish and Wildlife Management 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 Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies. Visit the Service’s website at


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