The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday proposed adding two snails and a mussel from the tri-state region to the federal endangered species list. The proposal also would designate parts of eight rivers and streams in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee as critical habitat for the mollusks, according to a news release.
Scientists say the Georgia pigtoe mussel, which grows to between 2 and 2.5 inches, once inhabited the Coosa River and several tributaries in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee. Now its habitat has been reduced to a 27-mile stretch of the Conasauga River in Georgia and Tennessee. In the early 1990s the pigtoe was thought to be extinct, but scientists found live animals later in the decade, the proposal states.
The interrupted rocksnail once lived in the Conasauga, Oostanaula and Coosa rivers in Alabama and Georgia. Now it is known to survive only in a seven-mile portion of the Oostanaula River and in a recently reintroduced population on the lower Coosa River, officials said.
Species to be named endangered in proposal:
* Georgia pigtoe mussel: Conasauga River
* Interrupted rocksnail: Oostanaula River
* Rough hornsnail: Coosa River
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The rough hornsnail was found in the Coosa River and at the mouths of several tributaries in Alabama, but now only two small populations are known in Alabama.
"They're not the big cuddly creatures we're all attracted to, but they're very important," said Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Connie Dickard. Mussels and other mollusks help clean the water by eating bacteria and debris, she explained.
"Healthy mussel populations eventually translate to healthy people populations," she said.
Listing the species as endangered would make it illegal to take, harm, harass or possess the animals. The habitat designation "may require special management considerations or protection" on 160 miles of waterways in Gordon, Floyd, Murray, and Whitfield counties in Georgia; Bradley and Polk counties in Tennessee; and Cherokee, Clay, Coosa, Elmore and Shelby counties in Alabama.
Dalton Utilities draws much of the city's water from the Conasauga. Spokeswoman Lori McDaniel said the company already monitors the pigtoe and other aquatic life on an 18-mile stretch of the river.
She said she was not sure how much of that stretch overlaps with the proposed designation, but it shouldn't affect utilities customers.
"At this time, Dalton Utilities does not anticipate that this federal listing will have any impact on the status of our permits," she wrote in an e-mail.
The proposal said the pigtoe, like many other mussels, has declined because of pollution and changes to the river channel caused by dams.
"Once (the river) is dammed, those surviving population are isolated," Ms. Dickard said. She said that makes it easier to wipe out populations by pollution or accidental spills.
The proposal is open for public comment through the end of August.