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Lawsuit filed against USFWS over species threatened by Thacker Pass lithium mine

The Kings River pyrg, a small springsnail, sitting on a small stone. The snail is a tenth the size of a pea.
Lynne Buckner
A Kings River pyrg, a rare aquatic snail species found only in Northwestern Nevada near Thacker Pass, sits atop a small stone on April 7, 2022.

The non-profit Western Watersheds Project filed the lawsuit late last month against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was in response to the agency’s failure to respond to a petition filed by the nonprofit in September 2022 asking for a determination on whether the Kings River pyrg springsnail qualifies for protection under the Environmental Protection Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to respond to a petition within 90 days, and deliver a final decision on a listing within 12 months. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to respond.

The Kings River Pyrg, a small aquatic snail species, has only been found in 13 springs in Northwestern Nevada, said Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project.

“We stumbled across the very rare species when we were examining the environmental impacts of a proposed lithium mine, Thacker Pass. So now we're at the point of trying to do triage and try and prevent the extinction of this very rare spring snail,” Molvar said.

The Thacker Pass lithium mine is located near the Nevada-Oregon border on land that is sacred to Paiute and Shoshone people. Construction on the mine began in March 2023 despite the local tribes’ and activists' efforts to halt it.

The 13 springs that make up the sole habitat of the species are very delicate, and are already imperiled by drought and climate change, Molvar said. The mine plans to draw water from the aquifer that feeds these springs, some of which are already less than a centimeter deep.

“We're hoping that a listing will ensure that the mine is not allowed to draw down the water table and threaten the continued existence of the springs,” Molvar said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has 60 days to respond to the petition before the lawsuit is brought before a federal court. The Fish and Wildlife Service declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.

Kat Fulwider is a student reporter for KUNR and the Hitchcock Project for Visualizing Science, which is part of the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Kat Fulwider is an award-winning documentary photographer and journalism student attending the Reynolds School of Journalism at UNR. She is a fall 2023 student reporter at KUNR Public Radio and the Mick Hitchcock, Ph.D., Project for Visualizing Science.