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A group of about a dozen small triangular shellfish in shallow water.
Information icon Yellow lance in the Tar River in North Carolina. Photo by Sarah McRae, USFWS.

Service proposes critical habitat for yellow lance mussel

Designation protects multiple species, economic analysis indicates minimal costs to private landowners and stakeholders

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to designate critical habitat for the yellow lance freshwater mussel within Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, including 154 river miles of habitat that overlap with other federally protected mussels and fish. Only areas currently occupied by the mussel, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2018, are included in the proposal. A draft economic analysis on the impacts of this action indicates minimal costs for stakeholders and private landowners.

Identifying critical habitat for the yellow lance will support diverse conservation partnerships already underway with the states of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. The proposal includes 319 river miles of critical habitat, or 43 percent of the yellow lance’s historical range, within the Patuxent, Rappahannock, York, James, Chowan, Tar and Neuse river basins.

“Freshwater mussels such as the yellow lance are important indicator species for healthy streams and rivers, benefitting wildlife and communities that rely on clean, abundant water resources,” said Service Regional Director Leo Miranda. “Improving the quality of our water resources not only benefits wildlife but leads to better recreation opportunities for residents, such as hunting and fishing.”

Critical habitat is defined by the ESA as the specific geographic areas that contain the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of endangered and threatened wildlife. These designations raise awareness about the needs of listed species and focus the efforts of the Service and diverse conservation partners. Critical habitat designations affect only actions carried out, funded or permitted by a federal agency. They do not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness, reserve, preserve or other conservation area.

When specifying an area as critical habitat, the ESA requires the Service to consider potential economic and other relevant impacts of the designation. A draft economic analysis made available today indicates the proposed designation of 11 critical habitat units within three states would have minimal economic impacts. In addition, the critical habitat of four species — Roanoake logperch, Tar River spinymussel, dwarf wedgemussel and James spinymussel — listed as endangered under the ESA overlaps with 154 miles of yellow lance critical habitat. The Atlantic pigtoe mussel, currently proposed for listing as threatened under the ESA, also shares habitat with the yellow lance.

Costs associated with this critical habitat designation are estimated to be less than $240,000 annually, much of which would fall to the Service and the sponsoring federal agency. Costs would be incurred by private stakeholders only if projects or activities are proposed that have some federal connection, such as federal funding or the issuance of a federal permit. The yellow lance is a medium-sized freshwater mussel that occurs in Atlantic Slope streams and rivers, generally in clean, coarse to medium sands and sometimes in gravel substrates. It depends on fish to reproduce, with mussel larvae latching onto the gills, heads, or fins of fish to complete their transformation and dropping off when they reach maturity. Primary host species include the white shiner and pinewoods shiner.

Threats to the yellow lance include water pollution coming directly from sites such as sewage treatment plants and solid waste disposal sites or from runoff caused by road drainage, private wastewater discharges, or other sources. The mussels are also threatened by erosion and dams, which affect both upstream and downstream mussel populations by disrupting natural flow patterns, scouring river bottoms, changing water temperatures, and fragmenting habitat.

Submit Your Comments by April 6, 2020. Requests for a public hearing should be submitted by March 23. A notice of availability of proposed critical habitat and draft economic analysis will publish in the Federal Register on February 5, 2020.’The report and the proposed rules may be obtained by visiting the Federal eRulemaking Portal at Docket Number FWS-R4-ES-2018-0094 or by calling 919-856-4520. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at (800) 877–8339.


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. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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