Wildlife officials to conduct in-depth review of 32 species of spring snails

Federal wildlife officials said Monday they will conduct an in-depth review of 32 Great Basin and Mohave Desert spring snails to determine whether they should be listed for protection as threatened or endangered species.

The decision to undertake the review stems from a 2009 petition by watchdogs from Center for Biological Diversity, the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society and Jim Deacon, founder of the environmental studies program at UNLV.

After a lawsuit and prodding by the Center for Biological Diversity's office in Portland, Ore., the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed in July to decide whether to list 750 plants and animals nationwide, including 54 in Nevada. The agreement, in part, called for the center to drop lawsuits on the spring snails and some 90 petitioned species in exchange for the federal wildlife agency setting deadlines on making decisions on listing them.

Monday's announcement does not mean wildlife authorities have decided to list the spring snails, said Jill Ralston, deputy state supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service office in Nevada.

"This is the first step in a process and triggers a review of all available biological information," she said. "We encourage the public to provide information about the 32 spring snail species and their habitat for consideration during the comprehensive review."

Some species of Great Basin spring snails are the size of pinheads and live in springs near where the Southern Nevada Water Authority plans to pump ground­water to Las Vegas from remote locations in eastern Nevada. The center views those plans as a threat to the existence of the snails.

Water authority officials have said they are committed to environmental protections and will continue to work with federal officials on the issue of spring snails.

In its announcement Monday, Fish and Wildlife Service officials said the agency will issue a finding on the snails within a year. The service could decide listing is warranted, not warranted or warranted but precluded by other species that are at greater risk of becoming extinct.

A "warranted-but-precluded" decision would mean some or all of the spring snail species could become candidate species for listing in the future.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.