Battling for Balance: Ash Meadows’ Endangered Oasis in the Crosshairs of Lithium Exploration

July 15, 2023
2 mins read
Source: Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Google

In an unprecedented legal move that pits the objectives of environmental conservation against the push for renewable energy, two conservation organizations have sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) over the agency’s decision to permit exploratory drilling near the Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. The lawsuit, lodged in the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Amargosa Conservancy, challenges the BLM’s approval of Rover Metals’ proposed drilling plan. This Canadian mining exploration firm intends to bore 30 holes on public lands north of Ash Meadows to prospect for lithium, a key mineral in electric vehicle battery production.

The contentious drilling sites lie less than 2,000 feet from springs forming crucial habitats for a slew of endangered species in the refuge, including the pupfish. “We’re doing everything we can to save Ash Meadows and stop the agency’s drill-anywhere mentality from destroying this beloved wildlife refuge,” said Patrick Donnelly, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Great Basin director. This suit alleges the BLM violated federal law by neglecting to mandate an environmental review or consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on potential harm to endangered species. The plaintiffs seek a judicial order halting drilling and compelling the BLM to safeguard endangered species and conduct an environmental assessment.

Ash Meadows, a vibrant oasis in the Mojave Desert, supports a unique array of endemic flora and fauna, with 12 species protected under the Endangered Species Act. It’s recognized as a RAMSAR Wetland of International Importance and is one of the most biodiverse locations in North America. At the core of this escalating legal battle is a broader, existential struggle: the urgent drive to increase electric vehicle production to curb carbon emissions and the necessity to conserve fragile ecosystems. Lithium, critical for the clean energy agenda, is believed to exist in abundance near the wildlife refuge. The lawsuit’s complainants fear the drilling could drain the oasis’s waters and decimate endemic species. Moreover, they argue that the BLM breached the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Protection Act protocols, which should have necessitated mandatory environmental reviews given the potential impact on the refuge’s species.

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Community resistance to the project is also mounting. “We’ve heard loud and clear from community members that they don’t want lithium mining at Ash Meadows,” stated Mason Voehl, executive director of the Amargosa Conservancy. The organization joined the lawsuit in light of the significant threat to Ash Meadows. Rover Metals counters that its drilling plan will disturb less than five acres. However, residents are not convinced. As Dawn Duncan, a Crystal resident, warned during a Nye County Commission meeting, “No one can be certain until it’s too late.” The lawsuit may only be the beginning of Rover’s challenges. Commissioner Ron Boskovich called Rover’s plan “absurd,” highlighting the urgency of finding a way to halt it. Thus, the struggle for Ash Meadows intensifies, underlining the dilemma of achieving clean energy without jeopardizing biodiversity.

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