The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing eight freshwater mussels within south Alabama and northwest Florida receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The Service proposes to list the Alabama pearlshell, round ebonyshell, Southern sandshell, Southern kidneyshell, and Choctaw bean as endangered, and the tapered pigtoe, narrow pigtoe, and fuzzy pigtoe as threatened under the ESA.
The Service also proposes to designate critical habitat for these eight
mussels. Nine critical habitat units are being considered that
encompass 1,495 miles of stream channel in Alabama and Florida. The proposed designation includes streams that are currently occupied by one or more of the species. A designation of this size is necessary to conserve all eight species and allow for their recovery.
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 the mussels' 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.
An economic analysis of this critical habitat designation will be
"These mussels need our help. They have disappeared from portions of their natural ranges primarily due to habitat deterioration and poor water quality," says Cindy Dohner, Southeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
These eight species are only found in portions of the Escambia River,
Yellow River, Mobile River basin, and/or Choctawhatchee River basins of Alabama and Florida. Habitat degradation is considered the most significant threat to these eight species, and surviving populations are vulnerable to further deterioration of habitat and water quality.
The Service is seeking input from members of the scientific community and the public before any final decision on the proposal is made. Please submit comments concerning:
* Any new scientific and commercial information and data
concerning any threats to this species.
* Any information concerning range, distribution, and population
size of this species, including the locations of any additional
* The biological or ecological requirements of this species.
* Current or planned activities in the areas occupied by this
species and possible impacts of listing on these activities.
* Why the Service should or should not designate as "critical
habitat," including whether there are threats to the species from human activity, the degree of which the threats can be expected to increase or decrease due to the designation, and whether the benefit of designation would outweigh threats to the species caused by the designation, such that the designation of critical habitat is prudent.
* Information on any foreseeable economic, national security, or
other relevant impacts resulting from the proposed designation.
* Information on the draft economic analysis.
* Whether the Service could improve or modify its approach to
designating critical habitat in any way to provide for greater public
participation and understanding, or to better accommodate public
concerns or comments.
The public may mail comments and materials concerning this proposed rule to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2011-0050; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203. Comments also can be filed electronically at http://www.regulations.gov.