RENO, Nevada (AP) – Conservationists are seeking Endangered Species Act protection for a tiny snail half the size of a pea that only exists in high desert springs near a massive lithium mine planned in Nevada along the Oregon state line.
The Western Watersheds Project filed the listing application last week with the US Fish and Wildlife Service for the Kings River pyrg, a spring snail 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) surface mine that the Bureau of Land Management approved l year and is currently being challenged in the United States. Reno District Court.
Other threats to the snail’s survival include livestock grazing, road construction and climate change, the petition states.
“Federal land managers 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 USA-based group. Idaho.
Increasing domestic lithium production is key to President Joe Biden’s plan for a greener future, a critical component for electric vehicle batteries. Global lithium demand is expected to increase sixfold by 2030 compared to 2020.
Molvar, a wildlife biologist, agrees that the nation must “do without the dirty fossil fuels that are responsible for climate change”, but not by mining in sensitive habitats.
“We have a responsibility as a society to avoid causing ecological havoc as we transition to renewable technologies.” he said.
The snail’s shell is less than 2 millimeters (0.08 inches) high, according to the petition, which notes by comparison that a U.S. nickel coin is 1.95mm thick.
They survived in isolated springs, which are remnants of vast waterways that covered what is now dry land only to retreat several times over the past 2 million years, the petition states.
Groundwater pumping associated with the mine will reduce or eliminate flows to springs that support the snails, he says.
The lawsuit challenging the Lithium Americas project was filed by a Nevada rancher on February 11, 2021 and later joined by area tribes and conservation groups, including Western Watersheds Project. He alleged that the mining would violate federal protections for numerous species, including the endangered Lahontan cutthroat trout and the endangered sage-grouse.
He also argues the project would destroy lands sacred to tribal members who say dozens of their ancestors were massacred there by the American Calvary in 1865, despite a judge having twice ruled they did not. managed to prove that it was the same place.
Lithium Americas and the Bureau of Land Management argue that none of the springs would experience any impacts affecting snails – and claims to the contrary were based on misapplication of groundwater models, submitted after the environmental review was completed. of the government.
“Lithium Nevada has done extensive work to design a project that avoids impacts to the springs, which are more than a mile from the facility site,” said Tim Crowley, Reno spokesman for the Canadian company. Lithium Americas.
“Our project is deliberately sited so as not to affect local sources 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.
BLM said in August court documents that the final environmental impact statement said the snail had been detected during baseline surveys at some of the 56 sites surrounding the project, but none had been ” detected in the direct footprint of the project or in any area likely to be affected by the project.”
Molvar said Monday that three springs are within a 1-mile (1.6 km) buffer established by the bureau in its review of the potential impacts of a 10-foot (3-meter) drawdown in the water table and that the rest was less than 4 miles away. (4.8 km). He said the drawdown is an arbitrary measure and a drop of as little as one foot could negatively impact snails many, if not tens of miles away.
He said the snails were in jeopardy even before new mining was considered.
“We’re down to very few tiny habitats in just 13 springs, so we can’t afford to lose a single population,” Molvar said.