For Immediate Release
February 7, 2024
Paul Ruprecht, Western Watersheds Project, (208) 421-4637, [email protected]
Rare springsnail threatened by Thacker Pass Lithium Mine takes step toward ESA listing
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that a petition from conservation organization Western Watersheds Project to list the Kings River pyrg (Pyrgulopsis imperialis) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) presented information showing that listing may be warranted. The rare springsnail lives only in 13 shallow, isolated springs near the site of the Thacker Pass lithium mine in northern Nevada. The Service’s finding puts the snail on track for a status review culminating in a 12-month finding that may provide full federal protection to the species and prevent its extinction.
“The Kings River pyrg is a rare aquatic snail that has landed on the brink of extinction due to nearby lithium mining that threatens to de-water the local aquifer and dry up the springs the snail needs to survive, and also due to water diversions and habitat degradation at the springs themselves as a result of cattle grazing,” said Paul Ruprecht, Nevada Director for Western Watersheds Project. “Strip-mining for lithium at Thacker Pass, as presently approved, would ultimately involve pumping out the groundwater that feeds the springs inhabited by the Kings River pyrg, and without adequate spring flows the snail would go extinct.”
The Thacker Pass lithium mine is sited in a sacred burial ground known to the Paiute and Shoshone as Peehee Mu’huh, or Rotten Moon, where a band of at least 31 Paiutes was massacred by a Nevada cavalry battalion in 1865. Indigenous groups oppose the Thacker Pass Lithium Mine and the destruction of their ancestral homelands.
The area targeted for destruction is also Priority Habitat for sage grouse, and provides migration corridors for pronghorns and nesting habitat for golden eagles.
According to Western Watersheds Project’s petition, all of the known springs inhabited by the rare springsnail already suffer from some degree of habitat degradation, a fact confirmed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in their finding, and spring flows have already been modified at four of the springs.
Threats to the pyrg include livestock grazing, roads, drought, climate change, and potential dewatering and contamination posed by the Thacker Pass lithium mine. Because the pyrg exists in extremely shallow springs, the species is particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts like frequent and prolonged drought, as well as impaired water quality from fugitive dust, runoff, and cattle.
“Without ESA protection, this unique springsnail will become another casualty of the lithium boom,” said Ruprecht. “We will continue to work to ensure that the pyrg gets the federal protections it needs to survive.”