JOPLIN (AP) - Federal officials say two species of freshwater mussels that live in southwest Missouri and are considered indicators of water quality will soon be placed under federal protection.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Sept. 17 that the Neosho mucket mussel will be listed as endangered and the rabbitsfoot mussel as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The protection takes effect 30 days after the new rules are published in the Federal Register. The listing makes it illegal to kill, harm, harvest or possess the mussels.
The public rarely sees either type of mussel but they are important to determine water quality, said Georgia Parham, spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The mussels are threatened by habitat destruction caused by channelization, chemicals, mining and sedimentation, the agency said.
"Nobody ever sees them, nobody knows they are there. ... But they are kind of the canary in the coal mine as far as waterways, streams and rivers are concerned," she said.
The agency held public meetings in Missouri this spring to discuss listing the species and also did an economic impact analysis.
Experts will begin forming recovery plans for both species, which usually includes habitat protection, said Bryan Simmons, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist who is leading the effort to save the mussels. Recovery plans could include improving water quality and stocking young mussels in a suitable habitat. The agency has been working with Missouri State University to breed and stock the species.
The Neosho mucket mussel is found in Elk River and Shoal Creek in Missouri, as well as parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas, but only a population in the Spring River north of Carl Junction is reproducing at a level that can sustain the species, the federal agency said.
The rabbitsfoot mussel also is found in southwest Missouri rivers and streams, as well as in parts of 14 other states. It has lost about 64 percent of its historical range, the federal agency said, and only 11 populations of 51 remaining populations are viable.
The agency has proposed designating critical habitat for the two mussels in 12 states, including portions of streams in Missouri.
A critical habitat designation does create a federal preserve or wildlife refuge and applies only to situations where federal funding or a federal permit is involved, such as highway work, Parham said, and does not allow government or public access to private land.