Endangered status sought for snail near Nevada lithium mine
RENO, Nev. — Conservationists are seeking Endangered Species Act protection for a tiny snail half the size of a pea that is known to exist only in high-desert springs near a huge lithium mine planned in Nevada along the Oregon state line.
The Western Watersheds Project filed a listing petition with the U.S. last week. Fish and Wildlife Service for the Kings River pyrg, a springsnail found in 13 isolated springs around Thacker Pass 200 miles (321 kilometers) northeast of Reno.
It says the biggest threat to the snail’s survival is disruption of groundwater flows as a result of the 370-foot-deep (113-meter), open-pit mine that the Bureau of Land Management approved last year and is currently being challenged in U.S. District Court in Reno. The petition stated that other threats to the survival of the snail include livestock grazing and road construction.
“Federal Land Managers put this aquatic snail in danger of extinction by approving large scale lithium mining at Thacker Pass.” Erik Molvar, the executive director of the Idaho-based group, said.
A stoked up domestic production of lithium is a key part of President Joe Biden ‘s blueprint to a greener future. This is a crucial element for electric vehicle battery batteries. The 2030 project shows that the worldwide demand for lithium will increase sixfold compared to 2020..
Molvar is a wildlife biologist who agrees that the nation must “transition away from dirty fossil fuels that cause climate change”, but not by mining in sensitive areas.
” We have an obligation as a society not to create ecological havoc by shifting to renewable technologies.” he stated.
The snail’s shell measures less than 2 millimeters (. 08-inch) tall, according to the petition, which notes by comparison a U.S. nickel coin is 1. 95 mm thick.
They have survived in isolated springs that are remnants of large waterways that have covered what is now deserted only to recede many more times over the past 2 million years, according to the petition.
Groundwater pumping associated with the mine will reduce or eliminate flows to the springs that support the snails, it says.
The lawsuit challenging Lithium Americas’ project was filed by a Nevada rancher Feb. 11, 2021 and later joined by area tribes and conservation groups, including Western Watersheds Project. The lawsuit claimed that mining would violate federal protections for numerous species, including endangered Lahontan cutthroat trout as well as the imperiled sage-grouse.
It also claims that the project will destroy lands sacred tribal members, who claim that dozens of their ancestors were killed there by the U.S. Calvary. However, a judge has twice preliminarily ruled that they have not proved it is the same location.
LithiumAmericas and the Bureau of Land Management claim that none of the springs will be affected by snails. These claims were made after an environmental review by the government.
“Lithium Nevada has done extensive research to design a project that minimizes the impact on the springs, which are located more than a mile from the facility site,” stated Tim Crowley, a Reno spokesperson for Canada-based Lithium Americas.
” “Our project is purposely placed to not affect local springs and is the result of years of data collection and rigorous environmental impact studies. It also has been subject to regulatory and public review, engagement and approval by federal authorities,” Crowley said Monday in an email.
BLM said in August court filings that the final environmental impact statement noted the snail was detected during baseline surveys of some of 56 sites surrounding the project but none was “detected within the direct footprint of the project or any area likely to be adversely affected by the project. “
Molvar said Monday three springs are within a 1-mile-buffer zone (1.6 km) the bureau established in its review of potential impacts of a 10-foot (3-meter) drawdown of the groundwater table and the rest are less than 4 miles (4.8 km) away. He stated that drawdown is an arbitrary measure and that even a small drop of a foot could negatively impact snails many miles away. He stated that the snails were already in danger even before any new mining was considered.
“We’re down to a very few, tiny little habitats in only 13 springs so we can’t afford to lose a single population,” Molvar said.
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