PDF: Southeastern Power Administration's comment


* 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 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.

* 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.

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Energy officials say naming three North Georgia mollusks to the federally endangered species list could limit hydroelectric power, but environmentalists warn the species likely will vanish forever without help.

In July, biologists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposal to place the Georgia pigtoe mussel, interrupted rocksnail and rough hornsnail under federal protection and designate parts of eight rivers and streams in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee as critical habitat for the mollusks.

During a month-long public comment period ending Monday, the agency heard from supporters and detractors of the plan.

"We've got some folks who are for it and some who are against it and that's the way it always is," said Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Connie Dickard.

Scientists say mollusks help clean the water by filtering out bacteria and debris and are important to the overall health of a river system. 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, according to Fish and Wildlife's original proposal.

The Southeastern Power Administration, a branch of the U.S. Department of Energy, posted a comment criticizing the Fish and Wildlife Service's decision, saying the habitat designation could create "needless operation changes which could potentially impact power production."

"Southeastern is specifically concerned with the fact that the (Fish and Wildlife Service) knows little about the habitat requirements needed, yet proposes to list the entire reach of certain creeks and rivers as critical habitat," the comment states.

Another comment came from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which said it did not have any objections to the species' classification, but asked for the chance to comment later about effects to its hydroelectric power production once the Fish and Wildlife Service completes an economic analysis.

Other comments defended the proposed rule.

"The proposed ruling completed by the Fish and Wildlife Service is based upon sound science utilizing the best field and biological data available," states a comment from the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center. Later in the comment, the center states that the mollusks' critical habitat ranges should be expanded.

Fish and Wildlife scientists will use the comments in further studies and in the final rule proposal due next June, Ms. Dickard said.