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State Land Commissioner Encourages Conservation Efforts in Texas Hornshell Mussel Habitat

SANTA FE, NM – In an effort to conserve and protect five aquatic species native to Southeast New Mexico and West Texas, State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn is encouraging oil and gas and agricultural lessees to voluntarily enroll their leased acreage in his office’s Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA).

The Texas hornshell mussel, Rio Grande River cooter, gray redhorse, blue sucker, and Pecos springsnail are state-listed threatened or endangered species and the hornshell has been proposed for federal Endangered Species Act protection. The State Land Office manages nearly 90,000 acres of State Trust Lands that could be affected by the listing of the hornshell and other species.

The CCAA is voluntary and provides landowners and lessees an opportunity to implement conservation measures that address specific threats with assurances that, if the species is listed, they can continue to manage their land as outlined in their lease agreements. Furthermore, landowners and lessees will not be subject to overreaching land use restrictions, nor will they be subject to criminal penalties should any habitat damage occur.

“Our lessees have been responsive to our efforts, which will aid in sensitive species recovery and allow the State Land Office to continue to generate revenue for education,” said Commissioner Dunn.

The Texas hornshell mussel is a medium-sized freshwater mussel historically found in New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. In New Mexico, the species is located in Eddy County and occupies only 15 percent of its historical range. Hornshell habitat is typically in narrow areas of rivers and streams where they live imbedded in mud, sand and gravel.

Some conservation measures include avoiding construction and drilling activities in certain areas; ceasing of pumping if water levels in the Black or Delaware rivers drop below a certain threshold; reducing sediment in

the rivers through erosion mitigation efforts; avoiding low water crossings when other routes are available; and, implementing habitat restoration programs that further enhance and protect the Texas hornshell mussel and other species.

Under Commissioner Dunn’s direction, the State Land Office’s Field Operations Division is available to assist lessees with enrolling in the CCAA and determining which conservation measures lessees could implement to benefit the species.

Lessees are able to enroll their leased property at any time until the species becomes federally listed as endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to make a final decision on listing the Texas hornshell mussel in the next two months. If the hornshell is listed, lessees will have only 30 days from the date of listing to enroll in the CCAA, however enrollment can be transferred to subsequent lessees.

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