For Release: Thursday, August 26, 2021
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today published a proposed rule that would list six freshwater mussel species in central Texas—the Guadalupe fatmucket, Texas fatmucket, Texas fawnsfoot, Guadalupe orb, Texas pimpleback, and false spike—as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As part of the rule, the Fish and Wildlife Service also proposes to designate critical habitat for the six species totaling 1,944 miles of rivers.
“These protections are long overdue,” said Joe Bushyhead, endangered species policy advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Freshwater mussels are among the species most at risk of extinction. The threats to these Texas mussels from pollution, habitat loss, drought, and climate change are growing more dire by the minute.”
WildEarth Guardians petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species under the ESA in 2007 and 2008, then went to court in 2010 after the agency failed to respond to the petitions. That case led to a 2011 settlement agreement and now, more than ten years later, a proposed rule to list the species.
“Rivers are some of the most endangered ecosystems on earth,” said Jen Pelz, wild rivers program director at WildEarth Guardians. “The decline of freshwater mussels indicates that these once thriving waterways are now collapsing, which threatens clean water for people and the environment.”
Mussels filter water through their bodies and provide water clarity and clean the water in this process. This is a critical function to ensure healthy water quality that is only becoming increasingly more important as the quality of rivers and streams degrade due to low flows and pollution.
While Guardians applauds the proposal to list the six Texas mussels, their path to recovery is daunting. The Fish and Wildlife Service has long lacked the money necessary to conserve ESA-listed species. The fate of the mussels could hinge on passage of the Extinction Prevention Act of 2021, legislation introduced by Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to fund conservation of some of the most overlooked and at-risk species in the nation. Among its provisions, the Act would establish a Freshwater Mussel Conservation Fund providing $5 million per year for conservation efforts.