With each issue, Trib+Water brings you an interview with experts on water-related issues. Here is this week's subject:
Meghan Hope is a policy analyst with the Economic Growth and Endangered Species Management Office at the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. She focuses her work on freshwater mussels in Texas, and the potential the species faces for being listed as an endangered species in the state.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Water: Can you describe your role at the Texas comptroller's office?
Meghan Hope: As part of my role, I oversee a species research funding program, and I especially focus on freshwater mussels, as those are a species, or a group of species, that are a high priority for us. We also have funding for other species that are under review for being listed as an endangered species in the state, and we have a team of staff members that focus in on each of those species.
Trib+Water: What factors feed into a species being placed on the endangered species list, and what's your role once that happens?
Hope: Any entity can submit a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the service to consider listing the species. In that petition, the entity cites the reasons why they believe the species should be listed.
Once that happens, the service does a 90-day review of that petition, and after reviewing that information, they determine if additional review is warranted. If there’s enough evidence within the petition at that point, they’ll do an in-depth review, or what’s called a 12-month review. The service uses what’s called a species status assessment process as they go through and analyze the species. They look at the current needs and threats of the species, and they project that into the future.
All of that is done through the service. Our role comes in with our research funding program. We fund state universities to gather information that the service can use for their assessment process — information they need to understand the species and where it should be listed.
Some of the research for freshwater mussels we’re funding is to get a better understanding of the magnitude of some threats. We’re funding a study to look into sedimentation, a potential threat identified by the service for freshwater mussels, to figure out how much the mussels can handle. We come in to make sure the service has as much science on hand as possible to make a decision.
Trib+Water: Why might freshwater mussels be added to the endangered species list in Texas?
Hope: Within the last couple of months, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has just started a species status assessment process for Central Texas mussels. They have been reaching out to researchers and agencies to gather information that’s already out there about the mussels. The service has scheduled a decision be made about Central Texas mussels by September 2018. Between now and then, they’ll be assessing all information available for the species. We will have our research going on, and we will pass over that information to the service for them to make a decision.
At this point, it could depend on science that’s developed in the next year. But with that said, we saw the first freshwater mussel in Texas proposed for listing back in August with the Texas Hornshell. That was the first time we were able to see how the service handled their species status assessment and what key elements they focused on. That can give us an indication on how the service is going to approach these other mussels; some of the areas they focused on as key threats involved water quality and water quantity issues.
Trib+Water: Do you have a timeline for when the service will make a decision?
Hope: We think the fact that that mussel was proposed for listing can give us pause when thinking about the other mussels. One activity we’ll focus on this next year is gathering stakeholders — businesses and researchers of the service — to share information and focus on educational presentation, and to also have some initial discussions about possible voluntary conservation measures.
If there are other ways mussels are being protected, a listing on top of that may not be necessary, or it could allow for more time before the final decision is made if there is some voluntary conservation going on.