In response to a lawsuit, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating 1,200 miles of rivers and streams in Alabama, Florida and Georgia as critical habitat for seven species of endangered mussels.
The waterways include portions of Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system in all three states, the Ochlocknee River in Georgia and Florida, the Econofina Creek in Bay County, and Suwannee River in Florida.
Scientists say mussels have declined drastically over the past 30 years because of changes in stream habitat that could result from pollution, soil erosion along stream banks and other factors.
Jerry Zeiwitz, a Wildlife Service biologist in Panama City, Florida, says designating the streams as critical habitat gives the Wildlife Service some additional authority in reviewing federal projects, including dredging and federally approved wetland work.
Otherwise, he says, it would have little impact on private landowners.