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Emergency Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for Mojave Desert Snail
BAKERSFIELD, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed an emergency petition (see PDF) with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the Mohave shoulderband snail, a tiny resident of Kern County. The snail is found on three mountain peaks southeast of Bakersfield and nowhere else on Earth, and a mine now under construction, the Golden Queen open-pit gold and silver mine, will wipe out the majority of its population. The tiny snail’s total global range is smaller than eight square miles.
“This little desert snail is a unique part of California’s special natural heritage, but there are zero protections in place right now to save it from extinction,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “We’re asking for emergency Endangered Species Act protection so mitigation measures can be developed to safeguard at least part of the snail’s population from open-pit mining operations.”
Construction began last summer at the Golden Queen Mine, also known as the Soledad Mountain Project. Earlier this month the company secured funding to begin its second phase of development. More than 100 million tons of soil and rock, and consequently living plants and animals, will be removed from the 1,440-acre project site. The mine is expected to have a life span of 31 years.
Without mitigation measures for the Mohave shoulderband, the mine will wipe out more than half of the snail’s global population. Approximately 86 percent of the snail’s known habitat is on Soledad Mountain, with half of its habitat on the mountain being in the footprint of the mine. Twelve percent of its habitat is on Middle Butte, and less than 1 percent is on Standard Hill.
The shoulderband is a small terrestrial snail with a light-brown, spiraling shell that is pale pinkish underneath and approximately a half-inch tall. It is also threatened by pollution from previous mining operations and by global climate change, which could affect the moist rocky microhabitat the snail needs to avoid drying out.
“Humans don’t think about snails very often, but these tiny creatures 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. Approximately 40 percent of recorded extinctions since the year 1500 have been mollusks, including 260 species of slugs and snails.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Photo of Mohave Shoulderband (Helminthoglypta greggi) by Lance Gilbertson.