Rare mussel listed as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act
Washington, DC—A rare mussel, the Texas hornshell, will be protected under the Endangered Species Act according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) notice which will be published tomorrow in the Federal Register. The Service will list the mussel as “endangered,” so the Texas hornshell will receive the strongest protections available.
“Freshwater mussels are one of the most endangered groups of animals in the United States,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “We are thrilled that the hornshell now has the legal protections it needs to escape extinction.”
The hornshell is a freshwater mussel native to New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. Among other threats, poor water quality, low flows, sediment accumulation, predation, barriers in the rivers, and climate change endanger the mussel. The hornshell was once found throughout the Rio Grande drainage in the U.S. and Mexico, as well as Mexican Gulf Coast streams. Now there are only five known populations of hornshell remaining in the U.S.
The Service first found the Texas hornshell warranted ESA protections in 1989, but the agency declined to actually list it, instead placing it on the “candidate” list. The hornshell was petitioned for listing in 2004 by a star-studded list of conservationists, including Dr. E. O. Wilson, Dr. Jane Goodall, Dr. Paul Erlich, Barbara Kingsolver, Martin Sheen, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Xerces Society, and the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, among others. The agency found the hornshell was “warranted but precluded” by other priorities once again and placed back on the candidate list in 2005.
As part of two landmark settlements entered into with WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity in 2011, the Service has made “yes” or “no” decisions on all 252 species on the candidate list by Sept. 2016, including the Texas hornshell. This rule finalizes the Aug. 2016 proposal to list the hornshell.
“Freshwater mussels are bellwethers for the health of entire river ecosystems,” said Jones. “This is an important step towards protecting and restoring healthy, unfragmented rivers.”
Protection under the ESA is an effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percent of plants and animals protected by the law exist today. The law is especially important as a defense against the current extinction crisis; species are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that, if not for ESA protections, 227 species would have gone extinct by 2006.