The Southwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), along with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and the Office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts (TX CPA) hosted the Texas Freshwater Mussel Conservation and Stakeholder Summit in Austin, Texas on November 14 and 15, 2017. The purpose of the Mussel Summit was to create a forum for sharing information regarding the current mussel science and conservation programs in Texas and throughout the nation. The Summit brought together scientists and other professionals with expertise in mussel science and in the design and implementation of mussel conservation programs with other stakeholders and interested parties.
The Summit was organized into six sessions with the following themes:
Over one hundred people attended the two-day conference, which included twenty-four invited speakers representing seven different states. The audience was largely stakeholders from Central Texas. Attendees were state and federal biologists, environmental consultants, staff representing river authorities and municipalities, university researchers, NGO conservation practitioners, and other professionals. Time was set aside each day to allow for questions and answers with the panel of speakers for an audience-driven discussion.
One important discussion centered around the need for increased communication and coordination of effort among researchers and agency staff and for long-term monitoring of sites known to harbor significant populations of rare mussels. The summit planning team intends to organize an informal working group and to convene a coordination meeting in early 2018 to address these needs.
Keynote Addresses welcoming participants each morning were presented by the Service’s Southwest Region Director Amy Lueders and Tim Birdsong, Chief of Aquatic Habitat Conservation for TPWD. Both speakers highlighted the need for coordination and collaborative stewardship and the importance of developing and maintaining partnerships with the public. This is essential to protect healthy rivers for healthy human populations as wells as for healthy populations of fish and wildlife species, including freshwater mussels.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department placed fifteen freshwater mussel species on the state threatened list in 2009. The Service has adopted the Species Status Assessment (SSA) Framework as an analytical approach to deliver foundational science for informing all Endangered Species Act decisions. The Service is in the process of evaluating the status of four mussel species endemic to Central Texas rivers, with a listing decision expected in 2018. The Gulf Coast Prairie LCC Quadrula project that compiled information on current distributions, life history traits, ecology and conservation needs of Quadrula species along with management actions occurring and proposed for them is of tremendous value to the Service’s ongoing SSAs. (View a recorded presentation of this project’s results here.)
The Texas hornshell (Popenaias popeii) an endemic to the Rio Grande basin in New Mexico and Texas, was proposed for listing by the Service in 2016. The Service will soon begin the process of evaluating the status of three species native to East Texas rivers, with a listing decision expected in 2019.
We thank the invited speakers and plan to revisit some of these themes in a Special Session during the 2019 Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society Symposium in San Antonio. The Program and presentations (in pdf format) from the Mussel Summit are available for download at https://www.fws.gov/southwest/es/AustinTexas/ESA_Sp_Mussels.html