Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, July 5, 2022


Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681,

Alabama Mussel Gains Endangered Species Protection, 36 River Miles of Protected Habitat

Southeastern Wildflower Also Marks Recovery Step

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.— In response to a decade-long campaign by the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protected the Canoe Creek clubshell today under the Endangered Species Act. The agency also protected 36 river miles of the Alabama mussel’s critical habitat in St. Clair and Etowah counties.

This freshwater mussel lives only in Big Canoe Creek and Little Canoe Creek West, tributaries of the Coosa River in northeast Alabama.

“North America has already lost 35 species of freshwater mussels to extinction, so it’s fantastic that the Canoe Creek clubshell at long last has Endangered Species Act protection,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “With a recovery plan and captive restoration program, we can make sure this special mussel doesn’t join the dozens of species the Coosa River has already lost forever.”

The Center, along with Alabama Rivers Alliance and other allies, first petitioned for protection of the mussel in 2010. The species is threatened by runoff from agriculture and forestry, water pollution from development around Ashville, Springville and Steele, and severe drought events.

There are two populations separated from each other by the H. Neely Henry Reservoir. Two dire new threats to the species are Alabama Power’s Chandler Mountain Pumped Storage Project, which would create a new dam, and several proposed developments in Etowah County that would increase runoff into the mussel’s habitat.

The Canoe Creek clubshell was first described in 2006, when scientists realized it differs from other similar species it had been grouped with historically. Only 25 mussels were found in recent surveys. All were aging adults, indicating there’s no successful reproduction. Adult mussels live up to 35 years.

The Canoe Creek clubshell is about 3.5 inches long, with a dark-yellow to brown outer shell, an iridescent mother-of-pearl white inner shell, and a salmon-orange soft body.

The mussel reproduces by releasing larvae into little packets that look like fish prey items. But when fish eat them, the larvae attach onto the fish’s gills until they transform into tiny mussels and drop onto the creek bottom to begin life on their own. The Canoe Creek clubshell’s host fish are the Alabama shiner, tricolor shiner and striped shiner.

The Service also today reclassified the smooth coneflower from endangered to threatened. The smooth coneflower, named for its smooth stem, is found in sunny meadows in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.

The coneflower lost much of its habitat to highway construction, tree plantations, development and roadside maintenance. When the Service listed the smooth coneflower as endangered in 1992, there were only 21 surviving populations. Today there are 44, including many on federal lands or private conservation areas.

“The smooth coneflower’s recovery shows how remarkably effective the Endangered Species Act is at preventing extinction,” Curry said. “Hundreds of the Southeast’s special plants and animals are still here because of the Act, but hundreds more are still in dire need of protection to ensure they are still around for future generations to enjoy.”

Canoe Creek clubshell (Pleurobema athearni). Please credit: Frank Chitwood, Coosa Riverkeeper. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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