Dispatches from Thacker Pass – The Wildlife of Thacker Pass

A Photo Essay

Woodrat - image: provided by Max Wilbert

Opinion

Thacker Pass, or Peehee mu’huh in Paiute, is the site of a planned 28-square-mile open pit lithium mine in northern Nevada, near Winnemucca. The Canadian company Lithium Americas plans to destroy Thacker Pass to extract lithium for use in batteries, especially for electric car batteries. The company claims this is a “green” mine. 

However, the project would release more than 152,000 tons of greenhouse gases per year, would use products of the oil and gas industry to refine the lithium, and threatens more than 1,000 cultural sites sacred to the Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone people of the Fort McDermitt tribe and other regional tribes.

The mine would also harm wildlife by directly killing animals, by destroying 5,694.8 acres of habitat, and by degrading thousands more acres through habitat fragmentation, increased traffic, and air, water, noise, and light pollution.

The great author, scholar, and activist Vine Deloria Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux), in an interview years ago, reminded us that “Life is not a predatory jungle, ‘red in tooth and claw,’ as Westerners like to pretend, but is better understood as a symphony of mutual respect in which each player has a specific part to play. We must be in our proper place and we must play our role at the proper moment,” Deloria said. “So far as humans are concerned, because we came last, we are the ‘younger brothers’ of the other life-forms, and therefore have to learn everything from these other creatures.” 

This photo essay introduces you to just a few of the wildlife species who are present at Thacker Pass, who we must learn from—not destroy.

All images provided by Max Wilbert

Pronghorn Antelope, North America’s fastest land animal (up to 65 mph) and only antelope species. The second fastest land animal on the planet. Historical numbers were perhaps 60 million. There are roughly 1 million left. Their closest relatives include giraffes. The Thacker Pass mine would destroy two important migration corridors for Pronghorn.
Feather of a Prairie Falcon, the desert variant of the Peregrine Falcon. Dives at more than 200 miles per hour. Very susceptible to harm from pesticides. One of the bird species known to engage in play.
California quail near Thacker Pass.
Greater sage-grouse males in full mating display. Note the female at the bottom left, very well camouflaged even with no cover. This species has lost 97-99% of it’s population. They are on the brink of extinction. The Washington State population was hit extremely hard by last summer’s wildfires. A USGS report released earlier this year found that sage grouse “have declined significantly over the last six decades,” including a more than 40% decline in the last 19 years alone. The decline has been particularly fast in the Great Basin region, which includes this area.
Coyote tracks.
Jackrabbit.
Mule Deer just outside the Protect Thacker Pass camp at sunset. This herd orbited camp twice a day for several weeks in the springtime, relying heavily on land that all be destroyed by the proposed lithium mine.
A woodrat being revived by a kind wildlife rehabilitator after nearly freezing to death during a single-digit night in February. Rodents are particularly important to the ecology of this region.
A Dark-eyed Junco perches on a cliff directly above the proposed mine. These birds are common, but their populations are rapidly declining.
Pocket gopher, rare to see aboveground. They are rarely seen aboveground, and improve soil quality wherever they are found.
Bobcat tracks in snow within 50 yards of the proposed mine.
Ferruginous Hawk, the largest soaring hawk species
Male Greater sage-grouse in the pre-dawn silhouette. This lek, or breeding ground, is located less than 1 mile from the boundary of the proposed lithium mine. There are many other leks located within 5 miles of the site. Greater sage-grouse are known to abandon their leks when noise and disturbance become too high.
Greater sage-grouse tracks on the hillside directly adjacent to the proposed open-pit mine.
Red-tailed hawk sitting on a nest.
Canada Geese migrating over Thacker Pass.
Ground squirrel near Thacker Pass
Kangaroo rat tracks in fresh snow
Bull snakes and other species of snake are another important member of the natural community here. Every creature has a role to play and its own value.
Beetles and other insects pollinate a wildflower at Thacker Pass.

To learn more about the struggle to defend this wildlife, sacred lands, and water, please visit https://www.protectthackerpass.org.


Max Wilbert is an organizer, writer, and wilderness guide. He has been part of grassroots political work for nearly 20 years. His second book, Bright Green Lies: How The Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It, co-authored with Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith, was released in March.


The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of the Sierra Nevada Ally. Our newsroom remains entirely independent of our opinion page. Published opinions further public conversation to fulfill our civic responsibility to challenge authority, act independently of corporate or political influence.