Economic Impacts of the Conservation of the Mojave Shoulderband Snail (Helminthoglypta 'Coyote' Greggi)
According to the philosophy behind the establishment of the endangered species act, a value cannot be placed on saving species from extinction (Brown & Shogren, 1998, p. 4). Unfortunately, this is not a practical approach to understanding the full economic impact of preventing extinction. Without an understanding of the monetary values of endangered species, creating and implementing appropriate plans with adequate incentives and punishments is challenging (Gregory et al., 1996, p. 55). This limits the likelihood of success for many recovery plans by limiting options, sometimes leading to a decrease in support for conservation (Brown & Shogren, 1998, p. 6). This can be seen in the case of the Mojave Shoulderband Snail which is forced to compete with the Soledad mining project. A cost-effectiveness analysis estimates the budget necessary to achieve a specific degree of diversity and while this would be useful in the case of this species, too little information is currently available for this to be feasible at this point (Field, 2008, p. 390).
There are five factors that are taken into consideration when considering whether or not a species qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Two of these factors include the modification or restriction of a species’ habitat and a lack of regulatory mechanisms to prevent extinction (Endangered Species Act of 1973). Because of the location of the Soledad mining project, a vast portion of the snail’s range will be severely modified (Center for Biological Diversity, 2014, p. 5).
In addition, the Mojave Shoulderband Snail does not currently possess protected status through regulatory frameworks and no measures have been taken since construction began on the mine to ensure the snail’s protection (Center for Biological Diversity, 2014, p. 5). Determining the status of the Mojave Shoulderband Snail’s eligibility for protection under the Endangered Species Act will take place by April 2016 (Center for Biological Diversity v. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 2015). The 12-month finding will declare listing of the snail as threatened or endangered as not warranted, warranted, or warranted but excluded by other unresolved proposals (Center for Biological Diversity v. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, 2015).
Kern County’s plan for community development includes several long-term priorities. Two of these priorities are a more balanced application of land and natural resources and encouraging private business investment for the purposes of promoting employment opportunities (Oviatt, 2012, p. 47). The mine will not contribute to the first priority by possibly leading to the extinction of a valuable species, thus creating instability in local ecosystems. While it could be argued that the mine does meet the second criteria, the opposite is found to be true when analyzed. These priorities are long-term goals of Kern County, but the mine will only be in operation for 11 years. After which time, the mined resources will be depleted and an important species will be nearly or completely extinct. The short term economic gains associated with a temporary mining operation should not take precedence over the long term health and stability of both a specific species as well as the ecosystem it inhabits.
The role of mollusks in the environment has been established, but the full effects of their loss are still poorly understood. As an understudied species, it is difficult to determine the precise results from a decrease or complete loss of one snail species in a region. However, declining populations of mollusks have been linked to inhibited avian reproduction for some European species due to the loss of such a vital source of calcium. This suggests that the removal of the snail from its native habitat could result in a ripple effect that results in potential threats to other species as well. This could create additional costs to repair the environment that currently cannot be predicted. An adequate risk assessment therefore is impossible because of their connection to myriad distinct aspects of their ecosystems. This unpredictability should urge caution in taking any actions that are likely to result in deleterious effects on an entire mollusk species.
There are potential compromises. The current plans for the project will require limiting the snail’s habitat substantially. Decreasing the mining operation’s acreage would reduce the impacted habitat. While this may also reduce the profit from the mining operation, it would still allow it to continue without disrupting such a significant portion of the snail’s habitat. As has been established by historical mining operations in the region, it is always possible to resume mining operations in the future once reclamation projects and time have allowed for the repair of the previously damaged land.
In addition to a reduction in mining operations, the reclamation plans can also mitigate long-term damage to the snail’s population by specifically accounting for it during recovery operations. The Mojave Shoulderband Snail was not included in the Environmental Impact Assessment, so the risk to this species was initially ignored. However, this oversight can be rectified by the Golden Queen Mining Corporation through researching and developing strategies that will specifically involve methods to repair the snail population within the altered landscape.
Ultimately, it would be illogical to pursue a temporary project at the expense of the permanent health of an ecosystem. The Golden Queen Mining Corporation’s Soledad mining project should be restricted. Studies determining the areas where the Mojave Shoulderband is most prevalent within the currently designated project space would allow for a determination on a new approved site for the mining project. In addition, the corporation should be held especially accountable for any activities deemed beneficial to improve the habitat once mining operations have ceased. Finally, the Mojave Shoulderband Snail should receive protection under the Endangered Species Act. While full protection as an endangered species may result in the complete closure of the mining operation, a threatened status would allow for some protections while also allowing limited mining to continue.
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