Salamander mussel, found in WV, may be added to list of endangered species

By: - August 24, 2023 6:00 am

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed adding the salamander mussel to the list of species protected under the Endangered Species Act. (Megan Bradley | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing adding the salamander mussel — which lives in certain West Virginia rivers and streams — to the list of species protected under the Endangered Species Act, it announced this week. 

The salamander mussel is found in 14 states from New York southwest to Arkansas. It’s named for the Necturus maculosus, or mudpuppy, which serves as a host for its larvae. The species is the only freshwater mussel in North America to use a non-fish host for reproduction, the agency said. 

According to a species status assessment by the Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 80 percent of the mussel’s 66 known populations across the 14 states are at high risk from one or more threats, including contaminants, changes in water flow, landscape alteration, invasive species and risks to the mudpuppy.

“Freshwater mussels are among the most sensitive of aquatic species, so changes in water quality can have a range of negative impacts,” the agency said. 

In West Virginia, the salamander mussel can be found in tributaries of the Ohio River, including the Kanawha River, the Little Kanawha River watershed, the Middle Island Creek watershed, and the Fish and Fishing Creek watersheds, Alexander Silvas, endangered species coordinator for the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, said in an email.

The species has been known to be in the Twelvepole Creek watershed, the Monongahela watershed, and the Ohio River, he said. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also proposing designating more than 2,000 river miles in 10 states, including Fish Creek, Fishing Creek, Middle Island Creek, the Little Kanawha River and South Fork Hughes River in West Virginia, as critical habitat for the mussel species. 

The designation would require federal agencies to avoid “destruction” or “adverse modification” of the river miles, but has no requirements for state or private actions where no federal funding, permits or approvals are required, the agency said. 

Georgia Parham, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said if the listing is finalized, the public would be able to continue to enjoy fishing and boating as they do today.

“The Endangered Species Act is already a consideration in many rivers with salamander mussel, as the rivers also have other previously listed mussel species,” she said. 

Twelve West Virginia mussel species are listed as threatened or endangered already, Silvas said. 

Activities like installing a boat ramp, dock or other recreation infrastructure could be evaluated by the Fish and Wildlife Service to identify ways to minimize impacts to salamander mussel or and the mudpuppy, Parham said. .

The proposal to list the salamander mussel as endangered and designate critical habitat opens a 60-day comment period that ends Oct. 23, afterwhich the agency will determine if the species should be protected. 

Comments can be made through Oct. 23 online or by mail at: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R3-ES-2023-0058, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: PRB/3W, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041–3803

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Lori Kersey
Lori Kersey

Lori Kersey is a reporter with a decade of experience reporting in West Virginia. She covers state government for West Virginia Watch.