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Seven small brownish-yellow mussels held in open hands by a biologist.
Information icon Atlantic pigtoes ready for release. Photo by USFWS.

Service reopens public comment period on proposed listing and critical habitat for declining freshwater mussel

Proposed critical habitat designation and economic analysis available for review

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reopening the public comment period on a proposal to list the Atlantic pigtoe, a freshwater mussel native to rivers of the Atlantic seaboard, as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service is soliciting public input on changes made to the critical habitat that was proposed at the time of the proposed listing in 2018.

Critical habitat is defined by the ESA as the specific geographic areas that contain features essential to the conservation of listed species and that may require special management and protection. Critical habitat designation does not affect land ownership or establish a wildlife refuge, reserve, preserve or other conservation areas. A designation of critical habitat does not affect non-federal lands unless federal funds, permits or activities are involved.

Diverse and reproducing freshwater mussel populations are indicators of healthy streams and rivers and safe water resources, which benefits both people and wildlife. As filter feeders, mussels remove sediments, algae and heavy metals from water, with individual mussels filtering 15-18 gallons of water per day.

Only areas currently occupied by the mussel within the James, Chowan, Roanoke, Tar, Neuse, Cape Fear and Yadkin-Pee Dee river basins in Virginia and North Carolina are being considered. All streams being proposed as critical habitat are navigable waters on state lands. Ownership of the riparian land adjacent to the proposed critical habitat is a mix of private lands and conservation parcels, including easements as well as state owned game lands and parks.

“Reopening the comment period for further public input allows the Service to ensure that the latest information regarding the species is incorporated into the final rule,” said Service Regional Director Leo Miranda. “We appreciate the input from our partners and look forward to working with them to recover the Atlantic pigtoe.”

A 4(d) rule is one of the many tools found within the ESA for protecting species listed as threatened. Typically the Service uses 4(d) rules to incentivize positive conservation actions and streamline the regulatory process for minor impacts. The proposed 4(d) rule for the Atlantic pigtoe will tailor protections to allow for surveys and the relocation of mussels prior to stream restoration activities along riverbanks. It also clarifies best management practices for forestry/agricultural practices.

Anyone interested in this updated proposal for Atlantic pigtoe recovery is invited to submit comments during a 30-day period beginning September 22, 2020 and ending October 22, 2020.

Those who submitted comments or information during the previous comment period (October 11 to December 10, 2018) for the previous proposed listing rule, proposed designated critical habitat and associated economic analysis, and proposed special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA do not need to resubmit them. Any such comments are already part of the public record of this rulemaking proceeding, and we will fully consider them in the preparation of our final determination. Our final determination will take into consideration all written comments and any additional information we receive during both comment periods.

Information about how to submit public comments is available at regulations.gov under docket number FWS–R4–ES–2018–0046. All comments are posted on regulations.gov, including any personal information provided. Requests for a public hearing must be made in writing by October 7, 2020 to: Pete Benjamin, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Raleigh Ecological Services Field Office, 551F Pylon Drive, Raleigh, NC 27606. Persons who use a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800–877–8339.

For more information, visit the Atlantic pigtoe species profile, explore frequently asked questions, download the species status assessment, or contact Pete Benjamin at 919-856-4520 - ext. 11 or Pete_Benjamin@fws.gov.

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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 fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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