LITTLE ROCK — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday it has finalized critical habitat designations for the Neosho mucket and rabbitsfoot mussels in Arkansas and 11 other states that are smaller than the designations it initially proposed.

LITTLE ROCK — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday it has finalized critical habitat designations for the Neosho mucket and rabbitsfoot mussels in Arkansas and 11 other states that are smaller than the designations it initially proposed.


Members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation said they were pleased with the reductions but expressed concerns that the agency had underestimated the economic impact of the designations.


"The most notable reduction occurs in Arkansas," Chris Davidson, supervisor of the agency’s Endangered Species Program in Arkansas, said in a conference call with reporters. "The final designation for rabbitsfoot in Arkansas was reduced by 27 percent from what was originally proposed."


The Fish and Wildlife Service first released its proposed critical habitat designations for the two freshwater mussels in October 2012. In 2013, the agency finalized the Neosho mucket’s listing as endangered and the rabbitsfoot’s listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.


"Like many other mussels, Neosho mucket and rabbitsfoot have lost more than 60 percent of their historical ranges," Davidson said Wednesday.


Pollution and changes to their habitat have imperiled the mussels, he said.


The changes to the initial proposal were based on information provided during four public comment periods, survey data and the best available science, said Tom MacKenzie of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of External Affairs.


For the Neosho mucket, the agency is designating critical habitat in seven areas where the mussel is found, comprising 483 river miles in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.


For the rabbitsfoot, the agency is designating critical habitat in 31 areas where the mussel is found, comprising 1,437 river miles in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.


The final designations reflect a net reduction of about two river miles for Neosho mucket and 217 river miles for rabbitsfoot. The critical habitat is limited to the river itself, below the normal high water mark, and not the watersheds.


Also Wednesday, the Fish and Wildlife Service released an economic analysis that estimates the cost associated with the critical habitat designations at about $4.3 million over the next 20 years, or about $280,000 annually.


That is the estimate of the cost to federal agencies, which are required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on any actions that could impact a critical habitat.


"The average person should not incur any additional cost over and above what is required by the listing (of the mussels as endangered and threatened)," MacKenzie said.


During the public comment periods, the agency heard concerns from members of Arkansas’ congressional delegation, then-Gov. Mike Beebe, then-Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, the Association of Arkansas Counties and the Arkansas Farm Bureau, among others.


Several members of Arkansas’ current congressional delegation said Wednesday they had concerns about the agencies’ cost estimate.


Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said that "it appears the agency is still misjudging the cost of this critical habitat designation. I am glad to see the size of the designation was reduced from the original proposal, but I believe the agency is underestimating the cost. An honest accounting would include all impacts — not just the costs to federal agencies."


Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, said, "Fish and Wildlife has determined that the economic cost will be $4.3 million dollars for a 20-year period, but a more comprehensive method would likely suggest that’s a gross underestimate. In response, I’m introducing legislation requiring the Department of the Interior to go back to the drawing board and use a cumulative approach so we know the real economic costs the critical habitat designation will have on private landowners and the Arkansas economy."


Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, said, "While I support conservation and protecting wildlife, I do not believe today’s announcement takes into account the true economic costs, and I will support any legislation that helps the U.S. Fish and Wildlife protect the mussels without hurting our local businesses and farmers."


Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, said, "While it is worth noting that the critical habitat will be reduced by a small percentage, it isn’t enough to satisfy my concerns about the potential economic impact of implementation in Arkansas. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the delegation to respond to this final designation in a quick and comprehensive fashion."


Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, said, "While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports a $4.3 million economic impact, the agency is only listing cost of compliance and conveniently leaving out the loss of business as a result of this designation. This designation is not only bad for these rivers, but it is bad for the Arkansas economy."


A spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark, did not immediately return an email Wednesday seeking comment.