Wildlife and Mining in Nevada

Wildlife & Mining in Nevada
Mark E. Smith , Incline Village, NV

“Any resource extraction by definition impacts the environment. However, it is the manner in which these activities are carried out that is crucial in minimizing adverse effects.” (Nevada Mining Assoc, 2010)

The mining industry has made great strides in reducing impacts and there is now great focus on quantification, minimization and mitigation of water, air and social impacts. However, the same is not true for impacts to wildlife. While some companies are excellent stewards, the industry as a whole mostly pays this lip service. There is also a lack of support in the regulatory process. For example, here is the relevant portion of Nevada’s Code governing “Revegetation of land” (NAC 519A.330):
1.  An operator shall:
(a) Select and establish species of plants that will result in vegetation productivity comparable to that growing on the affected lands before commencement of the exploration project or mining operation, which is required by the manager of the land or which is consistent with the postmining use of the land.

How exactly are we supposed to return waste dump slopes, tailings ponds and open pits to “productivity comparable to….before….mining?” The reality is that both industry and regulators broadly ignore this requirement. Further, simple productivity, in terms of density and type of vegetation, is only one factor affecting wildlife. Far more important is the impact our facilities have to the broader habitat, including biodiversity and migration. For example, the Nevada Department of Wildlife has estimated that a recently proposed mine will cut off the migratory route for 23% of Nevada’s deer population, yet the environmental impact statement filed with the US BLM neither addresses loss of economic value nor provides any meaningful mitigations.

While the gold industry has made good progress in protecting wildlife from process ponds, but other mineral processing broadly ignores these impacts. The lithium plant near Silver Peak includes 4,000 acres of ponds. For 2012, the Dept of Wildlife estimates as many as 1,000 migratory birds have been killed, principally ducks and loons. These deaths are caused by salt crystals forming on feathers and legs, a process which happens in a matter of hours and leaves the bird to a slow drowning. There is a similar sized potash plant in New Mexico, which uses 15 hazers and 3 airboats to reduce mortality. The Silver Peak plant uses 2 hazers and no boats. Even after a $70,000 fine by US Wildlife Services, one of the largest ever in Nevada, they have yet to make any improvement…

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