In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to assign critical habitat for four endangered freshwater mussel species by November 2024.
The nonprofit wildlife organization Center for Biological Diversity sued the federal agency in July 2018 for not designating critical habitat for the snuffbox, spectaclecase, sheepnose and rayed bean species. The mussels will receive federal protection in 18 states, including Alabama, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Establishing critical habitat for the mussels would help protect them from extinction by requiring anyone conducting a federally funded or permitted project in the mussels’ habitat to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure the area is not damaged.
The eastern United States has the most freshwater mussel species in the world, but more than 23 of those have already gone extinct, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Since freshwater mussels filter the water that passes through them, they often ingest pollutants. Mussel populations are declining because of water pollution, sedimentation and damming. Dams disrupt the temperature and flow of water, which separates mussels from the host fish their larvae rely on for reproduction. — By Christine Dudley