Snails, mussel in Coosa River basin earn federal protection

Article published in Rome News Tribune 11/02/10

Snails, mussel in Coosa River basin earn federal protection

byDoug Walker, Associate Editor

 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a formal notice Tuesday listing two snails and a mussel found in the Coosa River basin as eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The Georgia pigtoe mussel, the interrupted rocksnail and the rough hornsnail will be protected across some 160 river miles from the Conasauga River through the Oostanaula River to the Coosa River from Tennessee into Alabama.

Joe Cook, executive director of the Rome-based Coosa River Basin Initiative, said the rocksnail can be found in the Oostanaula River between Rome and Calhoun.

“We wrote a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service in support of the listing,” Cook said. The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in September to obtain final listing of the two snails and mussel.

Paul Johnson, program director for the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center, said the only known habitat for the interrupted rocksnail is in the Oostanaula River near the Floyd-Gordon County line. The Georgia pigtoe mussel is found in the Conasauga River near the Murray-Whitfield County line while the rough hornsnail is found in two sections of the Coosa River in Alabama near Wetumpka.

“The rocksnail and pigtoe are Lazarus species; they were thought to be gone for years,” said Johnson. All three species were actually identified from as far back as 1994 through 2001, but since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has done very little listing over the past decade, it has taken until Tuesday to get them formally listed.

Cook said that most people think the mussels and snail are insignificant little creatures. “They are keystone species for clean water,” said Cook. “Those snails and the mussels play an important role in keeping our rivers clean.”

Cook said the mussels filter nutrients out of the water and convert them to a form that can be used by other critters. “The snails eat the algae off the surface rocks and debris, so they help keep the water clean, too,” Cook said.

Excessive harvesting through the years has virtually wiped out several of the species. Mussel shells were used in button making.

In more recent years, plugs from freshwater mussels have been used to make cultured pearls, and poaching of mussels from the Oostanaula in Floyd County got be a significant issue 10-15 years ago.

The listing of the three species as endangered will become official at the end of November.



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