Mojave Desert Snail May be Protected

09 September 2015 | Center for Biological Diversity News Release

BAKERSFIELD, Calif.— Following a petition and lawsuit, the Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today requiring the agency to decide by April 2016 whether to protect the Mohave shoulderband snail under the Endangered Species Act. The Center sought protection for the Kern County snail in January 2014 because it is threatened with extinction by the operations of the Golden Queen open-pit gold mine under construction on Soledad Mountain. The snail is found on three mountain peaks southeast of Bakersfield and nowhere else on Earth, with its entire global range being less than eight square miles.

“The Mohave shoulderband snail is a piece of living history because it tells the story of when the Mojave Desert was a wetter place in times past,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “This little living fossil desperately needs Endangered Species Act protection so that we don’t lose an irreplaceable piece of California’s natural heritage.”

The Golden Queen mine is under construction and has obtained most of its permits, but none of the environmental analyses for the mine have considered impacts to the snail. The biological survey conducted by the mine prior to operations failed to report the presence of the snail and no mitigations are in place to protect its habitat.

“The Mohave shoulderband is a really cool but underappreciated species,” said Curry. “Condemning this tiny snail to extinction would be an unnecessary tragedy because the species can be saved if the mining company sets aside and buffers some of the snail’s habitat on Soledad Mountain.”

There are only 17 known locations of the shoulderband snail. Of these, 10 are in the mine footprint, and eight are very likely to be destroyed by mining activities. This means that nearly half of all known snail locations will be directly impacted by the mine. Moreover, six of the 17 total known sites will be impacted during the first phase of mining activities, putting the snail at imminent risk.

The Mohave shoulderband is an approximately half-inch tall terrestrial snail with a light-brown, spiraling shell that is pale pink underneath. Populations of the snail are found on Middle Butte and Standard Hill, but they are too small to be viable in the long term if the larger population on Soledad Mountain is wiped out by the mine.

“Humans don’t notice snails very often, but they play many important roles in the physical environment that sustains all of us,” said Curry.

Snails decompose vegetative litter, recycle nutrients, build soils and provide food and calcium for many other animals including birds, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals and other invertebrates. They also help disperse seeds and fungi. Empty snail shells are used as shelters and egg-laying sites by insects and other arthropods; broken-down shells return calcium to the soil. In fact, snail shells are the primary calcium source for the eggs of some bird species.

On a global scale, mollusks are one of the most imperiled groups of animals because they are particularly vulnerable to changes in the environment brought about by humans.

Under today’s settlement, the desert snail is one of 10 species from across the country that now have binding deadlines for the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue final protection decisions. The other species include the black-capped petrel from the Atlantic Coast, western glacier stonefly from Glacier National Park, and seven freshwater species from the Southeast, including one mussel –— the yellow lance — and six imperiled fish: candy darter, trispot darter, ashy darter, longhead darter, sickle darter, and frecklebelly madtom.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681, tcurry@biologicaldiversity.org


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