For Immediate Release, April 15, 2014

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Pressure Mounts to Give Emergency Protection to Rare Desert Snail in Path of California Gold Mine

BAKERSFIELD, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today refuting claims by a mining company that it should be able to push ahead with an open-pit gold mine near Bakersfield, Calif., that will wipe out most of the world’s population of Mohave shoulderband snails. The Center filed an emergency petition for Endangered Species Act protection for the snail earlier this year. The tiny mollusk is threatened with extinction by the Golden Queen open-pit gold mine now under construction on Soledad Mountain. The snail is found on three peaks southeast of Bakersfield and nowhere else on Earth.

Mohave shoulderband
Mohave shoulderband photo by Lance Gilbertson. This photo is available for media use.

“Lack of protective action from the Fish and Wildlife Service is likely to result in the extinction of the Mohave shoulderband,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “This tiny mollusk needs Endangered Species Act protection right away or it will be lost forever due to federal foot-dragging and thoughtless destruction by the mining company.”

The Service has not published a finding on the petition. In late March the mining company issued a response, emphasizing that all environmental permits for the mine have been issued and criticizing the original taxonomic description of the snail for being from the 1930s. The Center sent today’s letter to the Service in response to the mining company’s critique, pointing out that the taxonomic validity of the snail is not in question and that none of the previous permits have analyzed the effects of mining on the snail’s habitat.

“Our goal is not to stop this mine, but to save this species. There are zero measures in place right now to protect this tiny animal from mining activities,” said Curry. “We are urging the Service to list the snail and impose mitigation measures to make sure at least part of its population is safeguarded from open-pit mining operations.”

Just since last week, more than 3,600 comments have been sent to the Service urging them to protect the snail under the Endangered Species Act.

Construction began last summer at the Golden Queen Mine, also known as the Soledad Mountain Project. Earlier this year the company secured funding to begin its second phase of development. 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 tiny snail’s total global range is less than eight square miles.

The shoulderband is a small terrestrial snail with a light-brown, spiraling shell that is pale pinkish underneath and approximately a half-inch tall.

“People 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. 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.

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