Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 2, 2022


Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

Two Freshwater Mussels Proposed for Federal Protections in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Louisiana

654 Miles of Critical Habitat Will Protect Mussels From Pollution, Dams, Urbanization

ST. LOUIS— In response to a 2010 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect the western and Ouachita fanshell mussels under the Endangered Species Act. The Service also plans to designate 654 miles of protected critical habitat in Arkansas, Kansas and Missouri for the two species.

“Protecting these unique mussels will help us take better care of the rivers they need to survive, which benefits us all,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “Mussels like these two fanshells are excellent indicators of healthy streams, and their filter feeding helps keep our water clean.”

The two mussels have been lost or severely reduced in multiple rivers and streams because of a combination of dams, pollution from mining, agriculture, logging and urbanization and alteration of river channels for flood control.

“For too long, we’ve recklessly harmed the rivers where these mussels live,” said Greenwald. “Better care for rivers isn’t rocket science. We mainly just need protective buffers, no dumping of pollutants and fewer dams.”

The western fanshell was first recognized as needing protection by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1984, but no action was taken. Recognizing the rich species diversity and degree of imperilment of freshwater species in the Southeast, the Center petitioned in 2010 for the protection of 404 southeastern aquatic and wetland species, including the western fanshell. Following the petition, the Ouachita fanshell was recognized as a distinct species.

“The Endangered Species Act calls for quick action to protect species, but it took the Fish and Wildlife Service close to four decades to protect these mussels,” said Greenwald. “The agency continues to delay protection for species, and reform is badly needed.”

The critical habitat proposed for the western fanshell includes the Spring River in Missouri and Kansas, Saint Francis River in Missouri, South Fork Spring River and Little Red River in Arkansas, Fall River in Kansas, and Black and Strawberry Rivers in Arkansas and Missouri. The critical habitat for the Ouchita fanshell would include the Saline, Ouchita and Little Missouri Rivers in Arkansas.

Freshwater mussels are the most endangered group of organisms in North America because they are highly sensitive to water pollution. The eastern United States has more species of freshwater mussels than anywhere in the world, but 70% of them are at risk of extinction.

Mussels feed by filtering small particles from the water, contributing to water quality by making water clearer. But because they constantly filter water, they accumulate pollutants in their bodies.

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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