Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 26, 2023


Will Harlan, (828) 230-6818,

Two Freshwater Mussels Receive Endangered Species Act Protections in Arkansas, Missouri

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.— In response to a 2010 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a final rule today to protect the western and Ouachita fanshell mussels under the Endangered Species Act. The Service also designated 489 miles of critical habitat in the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas and Missouri for these threatened species.

“Protecting the western and Ouachita fanshell mussels also protects drinking water and some of the most important aquatic diversity on the planet,” said Will Harlan, a senior scientist at the Center. “The health of our rivers depends on these mussels, which have been nearly wiped out by dams, pollution and mining.”

Freshwater mussels are the lungs of the rivers. The western and Ouachita mussels constantly filter water and remove pollutants from the rivers and creeks they inhabit. However, dams, industrial agriculture, logging, river channelization and wastewater treatment plants have clogged rivers with pollution.

The western and Ouachita fanshell mussels also depend on host fish to transport their offspring. Mussels lure fish close to them and release their fertilized eggs onto the fish’s gills. Juvenile mussels develop on the gills before dropping off to begin life on their own.

The 489 river miles of critical habitat designated for the western fanshell include 261 miles of the Little Red River, Black River, and Strawberry River in Arkansas and the Spring River and Saint Francis River in Missouri. The critical habitat for the Ouachita fanshell protects 228 miles the Saline, Ouachita and Little Missouri Rivers in Arkansas.

The Service refused to protect any river habitat where these mussels once thrived. The mussels have been extirpated from more than half of their historical rivers, but none of those rivers were protected as critical habitat.

“I’m deeply disappointed the Fish and Wildlife Service decided not to protect these additional rivers,” said Harlan. “These mussels need every inch of critical habitat they can get to give them the best chance of survival.”

The western fanshell was first recognized as needing protection by the Service in 1984. In the past four decades, western fanshell populations have experienced steep declines.

“Imperiled species should not have to wait 40 years for protection,” said Harlan. “Dozens of species have gone extinct waiting for Endangered Species Act protections. The Fish and Wildlife’s listing process urgently needs reform.”

Freshwater mussels are the most endangered group of organisms in North America. The United States has more species of freshwater mussels than anywhere in the world, but 70% of them are at risk of extinction.

RSWestern_fanshell_by_John Harris_FPWC_Media_Use_Ok
Western fanshell. Credit: John Harris. 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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