KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) —The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed that three types of mussels found in Tennessee be added to the federal list of threatened and endangered species. These mussels include the Cumberland moccasinshell, Tennessee clubshell, and Tennessee pigtoe.

All three species are known to live in the Tennessee River basin, while the Cumberland moccasinshell and Tennessee clubshell can also found in the Cumberland River basin. There are 65 known populations of Cumberland moccasinshell, 64 known populations of Tennessee clubshell, and 63 known populations of Tennessee pigtoe.

“The southeastern United States is home to a tremendous diversity of freshwater life, with the global center of mussel diversity being right here,” said Acting Southeast Regional Director Mike Oetker. “The state of freshwater mussels often reflects the quality of water. The listing of these mussels is a reminder of the importance of our role in keeping water clean.”

The Service also wants to designate a critical habitat for the three species. This is defined by the Endangered Species Act as a habitat that is essential to the conservation and recovery of the species. In designated areas, federal agencies are required to consult with the Service when they work, fund, or permit activities. The proposing critical habitat also involves developing an economic analysis of the cost of potential critical habitat.

The three species of mussels prefer faster-moving streams with stable stream bottoms dominated by coarse sand, gravel, and cobble. They can be found in habitats less than three feet deep in small to medium-sized rivers. The Cumberland moccasinshell grows to about 2.5 inches long and lives 5-20 years, while the Tennessee clubshell and Tennessee pigtoe are larger, at around 3.5 inches long, and live 30-50 years.

These mussels have been negatively impacted by habitat degradation and loss, genetic isolation, and threats from invasive and non-native species according to FWS. The service consulted with species and habitat experts from state wildlife agencies, universities, and other researchers to gather data on the mussels and their well-being. The resulting compilation is called a species status assessment and went through a rigorous peer-review process.

The public can submit comments on the proposed listing, critical habitat designation, and the draft economic analysis throughout a 60-day comment period ending October 21, 2023. Comments can be submitted by one of the following methods:

  1. Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: In the search box, enter FWS-R4-ES-2023-0112; FF09E21000 FXES1111090FEDR 234, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Then, click on the search button. On the resulting page, in the search panel on the left side of the screen, under the “Document Type” heading, check the “Proposed Rule” box to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”
  2. By hard copy: Send by U.S. mail or hand-deliver to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2023-0112; FF09E21000 FXES1111090FEDR 234, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: JAO/1N, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803.

North America has about 300 species of mussels and is a global center of mussel diversity, with over 900 species worldwide, according to FWS.