CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) — Conservationists are hoping efforts to save a rare mussel found in southeast New Mexico could lead to restoring a struggling desert river.

An 8-mile (13-kilometer) stretch of the Black River south of Carlsbad is home to about 48,000 Texas hornshell mussels, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported . Hornshells were once plentiful in areas near Carlsbad and Roswell, but now they occupy about 12 percent of their historic range in the state.

The mussels are typically found in rivers and streams with a slow current and fine-grain sand and clay. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requested for the mussel to be listed as an endangered species last year. A final determination is expected in February.

The mussels are one of the most imperiled animals in the country, said Taylor Jones, an advocate with the Santa Fe-based environmentalist organization Wild Earth Guardians. The mussels, which feed on microscopic organisms by filtering water internally, are indicators of problems in the ecosystem when they begin declining, Jones said.

"What happens in the river filters down to the mussel," Jones said. "What they're telling us is that the river is becoming fractured. It's a problem for a lot of species."

The river fracturing that disrupts water flow appears to be caused by industrial uses and damming, Jones said. If the mussel is listed as an endangered species, it could help reverse the problem, she said.

Landowners along the river have opposes the action, citing fears that it could impose federal regulations that would hamper their water rights.

Jim Davis, who owns property along the river, said listing the species as endangered is not necessary because landowners are already engaging in conservation practices. He said the main causes of the river issues are from drought and trash.

"I'm not going to do anything to be detrimental to the health of the river," Davis said. "I do care. I'm not the problem. I'm not going to do something stupid to endanger the river."

Other landowners have cited illegal dumping as the source of the river problems with authorities unable to curtail the issue.

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Information from: Carlsbad Current-Argus, http://www.currentargus.com/