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COSEWIC assessment and update status on the round hickorynut Obovaria subrotunda in Canada - 2003

Existing Protection or Other Status

Obovaria subrotunda is currently listed as endangered in Illinois, Michigan, and Alabama (and proposed for endangered status in Pennsylvania), threatened in Tennessee, and special concern in Indiana, and is therefore afforded some protection in these states. In Illinois, for example, “it is unlawful for any person to possess, take, transport, sell, offer for sale, give or otherwise dispose of any animal or the product thereof of any animal species which occurs on the Illinois List…”. Species on the list include all species listed as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act, plus other species in danger of extinction in the wild in Illinois (Illinois DNR 2002). Endangered status is also proposed for this species in Pennsylvania. The round hickorynut is not currently listed or proposed for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, nor is it listed in the IUCN Red Book. The Nature Conservancy has assigned the round hickorynut a global rank of G4. Sub-jurisdictional (state and provincial) ranks for the species are shown in Figure 5 (for information sources, see Authorities Consulted). The round hickorynut is currently ranked as S4S5 in Kentucky, S3 in Tennessee and West Virginia, S2 in Mississippi, Alabama, Indiana and Ohio, and S1 in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ontario. It is believed to be extirpated (SX) from New York, and has not been assigned a rank in Georgia.

Canada does not have federal endangered species legislation at this time, but Ontario is one of six provinces that have stand-alone Endangered Species Acts (B.T. Fowler, Co-Chair, Lepidopterans and Molluscs Specialist Subcommittee, COSEWIC, pers. comm. August 2002). Ontario’s Act prohibits the willful destruction of, or interference with, a regulated endangered species or its habitat. Five species of freshwater mussels that are currently listed as endangered by COSEWIC are found only in the Province of Ontario; these species are the northern riffleshell (Epioblasma torulosa rangiana), rayed bean (Villosa fabalis), wavy-rayed lampmussel (Lampsilis fasciola), snuffbox (Epioblasma triquetra) and Mudpuppy mussel (Simpsonaias ambigua). Since Ontario has not yet proceeded with regulating any of these species under the Act (A. Dextrase, Species at Risk Section, Ontario Parks, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, pers. comm. November 2001), freshwater mussels currently do not benefit from this legislation.

The Federal Fisheries Act may represent the most significant legislation protecting freshwater mussels and their habitat in Canada at the present time. Fish are broadly defined under the Act to include shellfish, although the intent was to protect marine shellfish harvested for human consumption. The protection of fish and fish habitat may indirectly protect the habitat of O. subrotunda and other species of freshwater mussels. The collection of live mussels is theoretically “fishing” and would fall under the Ontario Fishery Regulations that are made under the Federal Fisheries Act. No permits have been issued for the collection of live mussels in Ontario (J. Maffei, Lake Erie Management Unit, pers. comm. May 2001). The Provincial Policy Statement under Section 3 of the Planning Act provides for protection from development and site alteration in significant portions of the habitats of threatened and endangered species. Other mechanisms for protecting mussels and their habitat in Ontario include the Ontario Lakes and Streams Improvement Act, which prohibits the impoundment or diversion of a watercourse if it would lead to siltation; and the voluntary Land Stewardship II program of the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs, which is designed to reduce erosion on agricultural lands. Stream-side development in Ontario is managed through flood plain regulations enforced by local Conservation Authorities. In the East Sydenham River, where three live O. subrotunda have been found in recent years, 85% of the land is privately owned and in agricultural use (Staton et al. 2002).

Figure 5: State and Provincial Conservation Priority Ranks (S-ranks) for Obovaria subrotunda

Figure 5: State and Provincial conservation priority ranks (S-ranks) for Obovaria subrotunda.

The only significant population of O. subrotunda left in Canada is located in the waters of the St. Clair delta, within the territory of the Walpole Island First Nation. The shoreline consists of natural marshland, and is completely undeveloped. Special permission from the band council is required in order to access the area, so it is largely undisturbed. The Walpole Island First Nation is committed to preserving their natural heritage, and have adopted the following philosophy statement (in part) concerning the environment: “To preserve, enhance and maintain a mutual respect and to continue our beneficial dependency upon the environment, we shall endeavor to co-exist with Mother Nature and protect this relationship” (C. Jacobs, Walpole Island Heritage Centre, pers. comm. Oct. 2001). The Walpole Island Heritage Centre is aware of the presence of O. subrotunda within their territory, and of the national significance of the population.