This article was published in the Nevada Current, September 9, 2022
by Jeniffer Solis
A group of conservationists are seeking to get a tiny rare Nevada springsnail listed as an endangered or threatened species, arguing that the species is threatened by a planned lithium mine in Thacker Pass.
The Western Watersheds Project petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the rare Kings River pyrg under the Endangered Species Act. The pyrg is only known to live in 13 small isolated springs around Thacker Pass in Humboldt County, an area where Canada based Lithium Americas, plans to develop a lithium mine.
The mine secured federal approval early last year and has also secured a number of state permits required to begin construction of the project.
“This rare springsnail’s entire world wide range stands to be affected by open-pit lithium mining, which threatens to draw down or contaminate all 13 springs where it is known to live,” said Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist and executive director with Western Watersheds Project. “Federal land managers put this aquatic snail in the crosshairs of extinction by hastily approving large-scale lithium mining at Thacker Pass. Endangered species listing is now necessary to ensure the survival of the species.”
Conservationists say the Kings River pyrg is highly vulnerable to natural and human-caused threats, including livestock grazing, various impacts associated with the recently approved Thacker Pass lithium mine, spring modification, hydrological drought, climate change, and the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms.
Conservationists claim the mine’s operation would deplete aquifers that feed the springs inhabited by the Kings River pyrg, causing springs to dry up and threatening the species’ survival.
“The potential extinction of the tiny King’s River pyrg illustrates how delicate desert aquifers become heavily impacted by industrial mining activity,” said Kevin Emmerich, director of Basin and Range Watch. “The Thacker Pass Mine would pump 1.7 billion gallons of water annually for 41 years. It would be unsustainable for much of the wildlife in the Montana Mountains and would become a death sentence for this rare springsnail.”
Several tribes have also opposed the lithium mine— including the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony and the Winnemucca Indian Colony in Nevada. The Reno Sparks Indian Colony has challenged the mine in court in an effort to halt any excavation or construction at Thacker Pass. However a judge ruled against the tribes.
Tribes in Nevada consider Thacker Pass a sacred site and refer to the pass as “Peehee mu’huh” which translates to “rotten moon” in honor of their ancestors who were massacred in an area of the Pass shaped like a moon by U.S. soldiers in 1865, according to several written accounts.
Image: Kings River pyrg on substrate pebble (Photo: Lynne Buckner).