February 20, 2024

US wildlife service considering endangered status for tiny snail near Nevada lithium mine

Federal wildlife officers have agreed to conduct a full, year-long evaluation to find out whether or not a tiny snail discovered solely in high-desert springs near an enormous lithium mine being constructed alongside the Nevada-Oregon line ought to be listed as a threatened or endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service mentioned in a discovering printed Thursday within the Federal Register that sufficient scientific exists to warrant the evaluation sought by environmentalists who say that groundwater pumping required for the operation of the Thacker Pass mine might push the Kings River pyrg to the brink of extinction.

However, the company mentioned within the new discovering it “does not anticipate the species is immediately at risk.”

The Western Watersheds Project argued in its formal petition for the listing in September 2022 that the tiny snail no bigger than the tip of a ball-point pen was imperiled even before any new mining was contemplated due to livestock grazing, round-building and the anticipated impacts of climate change.

Ramped-up domestic production of lithium is a key part of President Joe Biden‘s blueprint for a greener future less dependent on fossil fuels. Worldwide demand for the critical element in the manufacture of electric vehicle batteries is projected to increase six-fold by 2030 compared with 2020.

Last October, the Idaho-based group sent the Interior Department agency a formal notice of its intent to sue unless it expedited the review under the Endangered Species Act.

“Without ESA protection, this unique springsnail will become another casualty of the lithium boom,” Paul Ruprecht, the Nevada state director of the Western Waterhseds Project, said in a statement Thursday.

The wildlife service said its new finding is based on substantial scientific or commercial information, including the potential impact of the mine operation — with an open pit deeper than the length of a football field — on the springs where the snail lives about 200 miles (321 kilometers) northeast of Reno.

It additionally confirmed the snail is at the moment identified to exist in solely 13 remoted springs inside a 14-mile (22-km) radius of Thacker Pass and the Montana Mountains in Humboldt County.

“The petition presents credible information that all 13 known springs occupied by the Kings River pyrg exhibited signs of habitat disturbance during 2018 surveys and that the flows of 4 occupied springs have already been modified,” the company mentioned. It mentioned different threats embody “livestock grazing, roads, drought, climate change and the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine.”

Lithium Americas, which is growing the mine, mentioned it’s performed vital analysis and plans in depth monitoring to protect towards any potential hurt.

“There is no indication the springsnail would be impacted by the Thacker Pass Project based on more than 10 years of data collection, impact evaluation by federal regulatory agencies, and judicial review,” mentioned Tim Crowley, the corporate’s vp of presidency and exterior affairs.

“We support this additional study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and are confident it will reaffirm that we’re building an environmentally responsible project with no impacts to the snail,” he mentioned in an e mail to The Associated Press.

Environmentalists and Native American tribes spent two years in federal court docket unsuccessfully preventing the challenge they are saying would additionally destroy precedence habitat for imperiled sage grouse, key migration corridors for pronghorn antelope and nesting habitat for golden eagles.

Paiute and Shoshone tribes additionally say the mine is being constructed on sacred land at Thacker Pass the place greater than two dozen of their ancestors have been massacred by U.S. troops in 1865. But the ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dominated final July that the Bureau of Land Management violated no legal guidelines when it authorized the challenge in 2021.