Some species of mussels in the Tri-States are in a fight for their lives and their kind.
North America has the highest density of freshwater mussels in the world.
Unfortunately, more than half of the freshwater mussel species in the midwest are either federally listed as threatened, endangered or a species of concern.
Two species that used to be widespread here in the Tri-States recently caught the eye of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
The Service proposed that the two species get Endangered Species Act protection.
KHQA's Jarod Wells found out what that means.
The Spectaclecase freshwater mussel and the Sheepnose freshwater mussel can be found in streams and rivers in Illinois, Missouri and Iowa, including right here in the Tri-States. The Spectaclecase can be found in Lee County in Iowa, Hancock and Pike Counties in Illinois, and Marion, Ralls and Pike Counties in Missouri. The Sheepnose can be found in Hancock County in Illinois and Lee County in Iowa. Both populations are dwindling. The Sheepnose currently is found in 24 streams, that's down from 77 - a 69% decline. The Spectaclecase once occured in at least 44 streams, but now occurs in only 19 - that's a 57% decrease. Of the 19 remaining Spectaclecase populations, six are represented by only one or two known specimens each.
Fish & Wildlife Biologist Kristen Lundh said, "Most of the threat for our mussels are dams, sedimentation, pollution, channelization and non-native species issues."
The United States Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed Endangered Species Act protection for both the Spectaclecase and the Sheepnose. Biologists have been analyzing the threats to the population and comparing the current numbers to historical data in hopes that the species will be put on the endangered species list.
Lundh said, "Once they are listed they will receive the full protection of the Endangered Species Act. And what that means is that people will be prohibited from taking the mussels, harming or harassing the mussels and the service will be responsible for developing a recovery plan for each of them."
Lundh says the species being put on the endangered species list shouldn't affect the general public.
Lundh said, "What will happen is that federal agencies will have to take into consideration mussels when they do projects, but they're totally used to doing that. Right now we work with them all the time with endangered species and endangered mussels in the Mississippi River and other big rivers."
What kind of role do these two species and mussels in general play in the overall environment?
Lundh said, "Mussels are filter feeders. In water habitats they filter out sediments and they do filter out contaminants as well. That's how they feed and so if you have a big loss of mussels you may very well have a water quality problem."
Right now the Spectaclecase and the Sheepnose are candidate species for Endangered Species Act protection.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have been putting together a report on the two species.
Once it is completed the report will be shown to the public for comment.
The service will then analyze those comments and eventually a decision will be made whether or not to put the species on the endangered species list.