Rare Snail Unique to California's Kern County Threatened by Golden Queen Mine
BAKERSFIELD, Calif.— In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that California’s Mohave shoulderband snail may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The Center sought protection for the tiny Kern County mollusk 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.
“It’s great news that this little fellow is finally moving toward the safeguards it needs to survive,” said Tierra Curry, senior scientist at the Center. “Without Endangered Species Act protection the Golden Queen mine could drive the Mohave shoulderband to extinction, forever erasing an irreplaceable piece of California’s natural heritage for short term economic gain.”
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 buffer its habitat.
“We’re not trying to stop this mine, we’re trying to prevent the extinction of a species,” said Curry. “Condemning this 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 known 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 47 percent, or 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 Service will now conduct a one-year status review of the snail and should issue a listing proposal in April 2016.
The Center has also notified the Eastern Kern Air Pollution Control District that the agency is now required to conduct new analyses under the California Environmental Quality Act on the impact the mine will have on the snail and on the Townsend’s big-eared bat, a candidate for protection under the California Endangered Species Act that also lives at the mine site.
The Mohave shoulderband is an approximately half-inch tall terrestrial snail with a light-brown, spiraling shell that is pale pinkish 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.