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CONTACT: Center for Biological Diversity
Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495
Three Mussels and Snails, 160 Miles of River Protected Under Endangered Species Act in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee; Two More Mussels Proposed for Protection; Rare Salamander Declared Extinct
Saving These Species Will Be Difficult Due to Years of Inaction by Politically Quagmired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
JACKSON, Miss. - November 1 - In response to litigation brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected the Georgia pigtoe mussel, interrupted rocksnail and rough hornsnail as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and protected 160 miles of their river habitat in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. The agency also proposed protection for the rayed bean and snuffbox mussels. But the agency denied protection to Mississippi's Bay Springs salamander, declaring it to be extinct. All the species are threatened by degradation of freshwater habitats through pollution and habitat destruction.
"Dams, urban sprawl and industrial and agricultural pollution have all taken a serious toll on freshwater habitats and the species that depend on them in the United States, including the five species protected today," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. "Scientists have determined that extinction rates in U.S. freshwaters are comparable to those in tropical forests. Protection of these five species under the Endangered Species Act will spur action to restore hundreds of miles of rivers and streams, which will benefit us all."
The three mussels and two snails have been waiting years for protection. Fish and Wildlife first identified the rayed bean as needing protection in 1984 by placing it on the list of candidates for protection, which provides no actual safeguards. Likewise, the two snails and the snuffbox were designated candidates in 1991 and the pigtoe in 1999. More than 240 other species continue to languish on the candidate list without protection. The Center filed suit in September to obtain final listing of the two snails and mussel protected today and has litigation ongoing over Fish and Wildlife's continued delay of protection for all the candidate species.
"We're glad these five species are finally receiving the protection they need to survive but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs to move more quickly to protect hundreds of other candidate species from oblivion," said Greenwald.
In February, the Center filed suit over the Fish and Wildlife's failure to protect 93 species, including the Bay Springs salamander, which was petitioned for protection by a private citizen, Jeremy Nichols, in 2006. The salamander was first described in 1998 based on two specimens collected in 1964 from a single spring near the town of Bay Springs in Jasper County, Mississippi. It has not been collected since but may have been spotted in 1995, when the last nighttime survey was conducted. The Fish and Wildlife Service has protected species believed to be extinct in the past in order to stimulate further surveys. Given the cryptic nature of this particular salamander, it is possible that some individuals remain.
"After failing to protect the Bay Springs salamander for nearly five years, during which time no additional surveys were conducted, the Fish and Wildlife Service has thrown in the towel and declared the salamander extinct," said Greenwald. "But it's premature to call this animal extinct. The Fish and Wildlife Service should have protected it and carried out surveys to determine if it still survives."
The two snails and Georgia pigtoe are native to the Coosa River drainage of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, where Fish and Wildlife designated 160 river miles as protected critical habitat, including stretches of the Coosa, Conasauga and Oostanaula rivers and Terrapin, Hatchet and Yellowleaf creeks. The rayed bean and snuffbox are native to numerous drainages in the Great Lakes, Tennessee, Ohio, Cumberland, Mississippi and other watersheds.