Thursday, February 22, 2018

Texas hornshell mussel placed on the endangered species list

From Staff and Wire Reports
Feb. 13, 2018 at 12:05 a.m.

A person holds adult Texas hornshell mussels from the Black River in New Mexico. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the freshwater mussel species from New Mexico, Texas and Mexico as an endangered species, drawing praise from environmentalists and scorn from at least one Republican congressman.

A freshwater mussel species once found throughout the Rio Grande drainage has been placed on the U.S. endangered species list — the same protection being sought for at least one of the 37 types of mussels found in East Texas rivers and streams.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued the listing last week for the Texas hornshell, drawing praise from environmentalists and criticism from a Republican congressman.

Michael Robinson at the Center for Biological Diversity said the listing gives the unique mussel an excellent chance of survival "in the face of would-be dam builders and polluters" in the mussel's habitat.

"This is good news for the hornshell and for all of us who rely on clean water and find solace and peace in rivers that still flow," Robinson said.

The Santa Fe, New Mexico-based WildEarth Guardians said it was pleased with the listing because there are only five known populations of Texas hornshell remaining in the U.S.

"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."

But Rep. Steve Pearce, a Hobbs, New Mexico, Republican, said the listing could harm local communities, businesses and jobs, and may reduce New Mexico's revenues from local energy production.

"I am troubled that the (Fish and Wildlife Service) decided to make this decision despite a serious lack of scientific information," he said in a statement.

Texas hornshell can be found in the Black River of southeastern New Mexico, the Pecos and Devils rivers in Texas, and two populations on the Lower Rio Grande.

The same endangered species protection is being sought for the Triangle Pig Toe mussel, which research based at the University of Texas at Tyler has found only in a few places in the region.

Only the Angelina River near the Cherokee County line has yielded significant numbers of the mussel, said Dr. Neil Ford, professor of biology leading the UT Tyler research.

"The rare species may have always been rare, but when we start building dams and moving things, they seem to be more susceptible to problems," he said last year.

One of the biggest threats to freshwater mussels is nitrogen runoff from farming and chicken farms.

"When you go look at those areas, the water is solid green, and it oftentimes has vegetation, like duckweed, just covering it," Ford said.

In the areas with significant runoff, mussel populations are nonexistent because the mussels are unable to get the sunlight they need to thrive.

UT Tyler research done last summer was aimed at testing responses to environmental stressors in hopes of helping determine which factors cause die-outs. Last summer's work also was attempting to determine if the mussels can survive bank collapse or if banks must be better managed to increase survival rates.

Such work is important, biology student Marisa Quevedo told the Tyler Morning Telegraph last summer, because research has shown freshwater mussels tend to decline in numbers as aquatic environments change for the worse.

"Often, the deletion of a small niche species in an environment leads to a drastic change in other species' populations and local environment," she said.



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