The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 20, 2013

Federal agency proposes adding two Missouri mussels to endangered species list

By Andy Ostmeyer
aostmeyer@joplinglobe.com

JOPLIN, Mo. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will host a public meeting in Joplin Tuesday and another meeting later in the week in Southeast Missouri to provide details and answer questions about adding two freshwater mussels to the endangered species list.

The mussels are the rabbitsfoot and the Neosho mucket, both of which are found in the Spring River. The Neosho mucket also is found in Elk River and Shoal Creek. The rabbitsfoot mussel also is found in Southeast Missouri rivers and streams, as well as in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.

Georgia Parham, spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the meetings are part of an effort to gather public comment as required by the Endangered Species Act.

The first meeting will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Wildcat Glades Conservation and Audubon Center in Wildcat Park. The second meeting will be on Thursday in Greenville in Southeast Missouri.

Parham said representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Servie will talk about both mussel species, threats to their existence, critical habitat and the process to list them as endangered.

According to the federal agency, the Neosho mucket mussel was historically found in parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas as well.

“We estimate the Neosho mucket has been lost from about 62 percent of its historical range with only 9 of 16 historical populations remaining. This mussel is declining throughout its range with only one of the remaining nine populations considered a large, viable population,” the agency concluded in its analysis.

The rabbitsfoot is a freshwater mussel historically found in rivers and streams in 15 states that also has been on the decline.

“We estimate that it has been lost from about 64 percent of its historical range. While 51 of 140 historical populations are still present, only 11 populations are viable; 23 populations are at risk of extirpation and 17 populations do not seem to be reproducing at a level that can sustain the populations. Most of the existing rabbitsfoot populations are marginal to small and isolated,” the agency report concluded.

 Parham said the agency proposed declaring the two mussels federally endangered species last fall, opened an initial public comment period, and then completed an economic analysis before opening the second public comment period. Ther second comment period closes June 10. The agency also has proposed designating critical habitat for these two mussels in 12 states, including portions of streams in Missouri.  

According to Parham, critical habitat refers to specific geographic areas needed for the preservation of a threatened or endangered species, and the goal is making sure that federal agencies and the public are aware of the mussels' habitat need. A critical habitat designation does not set up a preserve or wildlife refuge and only applies to situations where federal funding or a federal permit is involved, such as highway work.

Most commonly, it would affect federal permits for dredging, for example, or placement of bridges, she said.

Critical habitat designation does not allow government or public access to private land.

To learn more about mussels of federal concern, go to the website of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/clams/index.html