Protection sought for snail near Nevada mine

Kings River pyrg

Kings River pyrg
Western Watersheds Project

RENO — Conservationists are seeking Endangered Species Act protection for a tiny snail half the size of a pea and known to exist only in high desert springs near a massive lithium mine located in Nevada along the Oregon state line it’s planned.
The Western Watersheds Project submitted an application to the US Fish and Wildlife Service last week for the Kings River pyrg, a jupin snail found in 13 isolated wells around Thacker Pass, 200 miles northeast of Reno in Humboldt County.
The biggest threat to the snail’s survival is disruption to groundwater flow as a result of the 370-foot deep open pit mine that the Bureau of Land Management approved last year and is currently being challenged in US District Court in Reno.
Other threats to the snail’s survival include cattle grazing, road construction and climate change, the petition said.
“Federal land administrators have put this aquatic snail in the crosshairs of extinction by hastily approving large-scale lithium mining at Thacker Pass,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of the Idaho-based group.
Ramped domestic lithium production is key to President Biden’s blueprint for a greener future, a crucial element for electric vehicle batteries. Global demand for lithium is projected to increase sixfold by 2030 compared to 2020.
Molvar, a wildlife biologist, agrees the nation needs to “switch from the dirty fossil fuels responsible for climate change,” but not from mining in sensitive habitats.
“We have a responsibility as a society to avoid ecological damage as we move to renewable technologies,” he said.
The shell of the snail is less than 2 millimeters thick, the petition said, which by comparison notes that a US nickel coin is 1.95mm thick.
They have survived in isolated springs that are remnants of extensive waterways that have blanketed the now-arid land, only to retreat many times over the past 2 million years, the petition said.
Groundwater pumping associated with the mine will reduce or eliminate inflows to the wells that support the augers, it said.
The lawsuit against Lithium Americas’ project was filed on February 11, 2021 by a Nevada rancher and later supported by tribal and conservation groups in the area, including the Western Watersheds Project. It has been claimed mining would violate federal protections of numerous species, including the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout and the endangered sage grouse.
It is also claimed that the project would destroy land sacred to tribesmen who say dozens of their ancestors were slaughtered there by US Calvary in 1865, though a judge has twice tentatively ruled they could not prove it is the same place.
Lithium Americas and the Bureau of Land Management claim that none of the wells would have any impact on the snails — and that claims to the contrary were based on misapplication of groundwater models submitted after the government’s environmental review was completed.
“Lithium Nevada has done extensive work to design a project that avoids impacting wells located more than a mile from the facility’s site,” said Tim Crowley, a Reno spokesman for Canada-based Lithium Americas.
“Our project is intentionally designed to have no impact on local sources and is based on years of data collection, rigorous environmental impact studies, regulatory and public scrutiny, engagement with stakeholders, and final approval from federal agencies,” he said Monday in an e-mail. Mail.
BLM said in August court filings that the final environmental impact statement noted that the snail was discovered during baseline surveys at some of the 56 sites surrounding the project, but none were discovered “within the direct footprint of the project or an area that is likely to be.” affected by this project.”
Molvar said Monday three wells are within a 1-mile buffer zone set by the bureau in its review of possible effects of a 10-foot lowering of water tables, with the rest less than 4 miles away. He said the drawdown is an arbitrary metric and that a drop of just a foot slugs could adversely affect several or even dozens of kilometers.
He said the snails were endangered even before new mining was considered.
“We have very few tiny little habitats left in just 13 springs, so we can’t afford to lose a single population,” Molvar said.

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