RENO, Nevada (AP) – Conservationists are seeking to protect the Endangered Species Act of a small, half-pea-sized snail known only to be found in high desert springs near a massive, planned lithium mine in Nevada along the Oregon State Line.
The Western Watershed Project submitted a petition for the listing last week to the US Fish and Wildlife Service for the Kings River pyrg, a spring stud found in 13 secluded springs around Thacker Pass 200 miles (321 kilometers) northeast of Reno.
She says the biggest threat to snail survival is the disruption of groundwater flows as a result of the 370-foot (113-meter) open-pit mine that was approved by the Bureau of Land Management last year and is currently being challenged in the United States. Reno District Court.
Other threats to snail survival include livestock grazing, road construction and climate change, the petition said.
“Federal land managers have put this water snail in the crosshairs of extinction by agreeing to expedite large-scale lithium mining in Thacker Pass,” said Eric Mulvar, executive director of the Idaho-based group.
Increased domestic production of lithium is key to President Joe Biden’s blueprint for a greener future, a critical component of electric car batteries. Global demand for lithium is expected to increase sixfold by 2030 compared to 2020.
Mulvar, a wildlife biologist, agrees that the nation should “move from the filthy fossil fuels responsible for climate change” but not by mining in sensitive habitats.
“We have a responsibility as a society to avoid creating environmental chaos as we switch to renewable technologies.” He said.
The snail’s shell is less than 2 mm (0.08 in) long, according to the petition, which indicates that compared to a US nickel coin it is 1.95 mm thick.
They survived in isolated springs, the petition said, the remnants of vast watercourses that covered what is now dry land to retreat several times over the past two million years.
He adds that pumping groundwater associated with the mine will reduce or eliminate flows to the springs that support the snails.
The lawsuit challenging the Lithium Americas Project was filed by Nevada Farms on February 11, 2021 and later joined by area tribes and conservation groups, including the Western Watershed Project. It claimed that mining would violate federal protections for several species, including the threatened Lahontan trout and the endangered sage grouse.
It also maintains that the project would destroy the sacred lands of tribal members who say dozens of their ancestors were massacred there by the American Calvary in 1865, even though the judge twice ruled in principle that they failed to prove it was the same site.
The Americas Lithium and Bureau of Land Management maintain that none of the springs will suffer from impacts affecting the snails — and claims to the contrary are based on misapplication of groundwater models, which were submitted after the government’s environmental review was completed.
“Lithium Nevada has done extensive work designing a project that avoids impacts on the springs, which are more than one mile from the facility site,” said Tim Crowley, a Reno spokesperson for Lithium Americas in Canada.
“Our project is intentionally designed not to impact local springs and is based on years of data collection, rigorous environmental impact studies, regulatory and public review, engagement with stakeholders, and final approval by federal authorities,” he said in an email Monday.
The BLM said in court filings in August that its final environmental impact statement indicated that snails were detected during baseline surveys of some of the 56 sites surrounding the project but none were discovered within the project’s direct footprint or any area likely to be adversely affected by a project.”
Mulvar said Monday that three springs located within a 1-mile (1.6 km) buffer zone the bureau established in its review of the potential effects of a 10-foot (3-meter) drop in the groundwater table and the remainder less than 4 miles. (4.8 km). He said the dip is a random measure, and that a small drop by a foot can negatively affect snails several or even tens of miles away.
He said the snails were at risk even before any new mining was considered.
“We rely on very few, very small habitats in just 13 springs, so we cannot afford to lose a single population,” Mulvar said.