News Release
Southeast Region


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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Lists the Altamaha Spinymussel as an Endangered Species

October 7, 2011


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Two small mussels sitting on something red

Two Altamaha spinymussels. Credit: Jimmy Rickard, USFWS.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is listing the Altamaha spinymussel as an endangered species, and at the same time  is designating 149 miles of mainstem river channel in the Altamaha River as critical habitat.

The spinymussel has been a candidate for listing as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 2001. 

The Altamaha spinymussel is only found in the Altamaha Basin in southeastern Georgia. Under the ESA, an endangered species is any species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.  The spinymussel is being listed with critical habitat because it has suffered severe declines in population numbers and distribution over several decades, coupled with no known reproductive success in recent years.  In addition, little is known about the species’ host fish during reproduction and its status.  Host fish help mussels form during their larval stage.  However, the spinymussel’s host fish could potentially be threatened by the introduction of non-native species, such as the flathead catfish and Asian clam, into the Altamaha River.

Water quality in the Altamaha River has declined because of sediment from forestry, agriculture, and other land-clearing activities.  Dam operations, water withdrawals, drought, and contaminants also have degraded the species’ habitat.  The spinymussel has disappeared from the lower portions of the Altamaha River’s three major tributaries, the Ohoopee, Ocmulgee, and Oconee Rivers.

One of Georgia's most distinctive species, the Altamaha spinymussel has one to five long spikey spines on each of its shells. These spines start growing on a juvenile, can be crooked or straight, and may reach an inch or more in length by the time an individual is fully grown.

The listing of the spinymussel as endangered becomes effective on November 11, 2011, 30 days following the rule's publication in the Federal Register.

The Service is designating critical habitat along the main stem of the upper Altamaha, lower Ocmulgee and Ohoopee  Rivers in Appling, Ben Hill, Coffee, Jeff Davis, Long, Montgomery, Tattnall, Telfair, Toombs, Wayne, and Wheeler Counties, Georgia.

The Service has conducted an analysis of the possible economic impacts resulting from this critical habitat designation.  It predicts little impact on any sector of the economy.

The ESA makes it illegal to kill, harm or otherwise "take" a listed species.  The ESA also requires all federal agencies to ensure actions they authorize, fund, or undertake do not jeopardize the existence of listed species, and directs the Service to work with federal agencies and other partners to develop and carry out recovery efforts for those species. Listing also focuses attention on the needs of the species, encouraging conservation efforts by other federal, state, and local agencies, conservation groups, and other organizations and individuals.

Critical habitat is a term defined in the Endangered Species Act.  It refers to specific geographic areas that are essential to the conservation of a threatened or endangered species and which may require special management considerations or protection. The designation of critical habitat will help ensure that federal agencies and the public are aware of Altamaha spinymussel habitat needs and proper consultation is conducted by federal agencies when required by law.

A critical habitat designation does not set up a preserve or refuge and only applies to situations where federal funding or a federal permit is involved.  It does not allow government or public access to private land.  Federal agencies that undertake, fund or permit activities that may affect critical habitat are required to consult with the Service to ensure such actions do not adversely modify or destroy designated critical habitat.

Copies of the final rule and maps published in the Federal Register on October 11, 2011,are available by contacting Jimmy Rickard, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Athens Ecological Services Office, 105 Westpark Dr., Suite D, Athens, Georgia 30606 (telephone 706/613-9493, extension 223; facsimile 706/613-6059).  The final rule and maps can also be found at

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit Connect with our Facebook page at, follow our tweets at, watch our YouTube Channel at and download photos from our Flickr page at


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Last updated: October 6, 2011