USFWS confirms it will classify flower at proposed lithium mine site as endangered


The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday that it plans to classify a rare Nevada wildflower as endangered, dealing a heavy blow to a lithium mine planned in the flower’s only known habitat.

After determining that Tiehm’s buckwheat could be threatened with extinction throughout its range without federal protection, the agency submitted a proposed rule to classify the species as endangered.

The proposal is now open for a 60-day public comment period and could be finalized within a year.

The main threats to the species include predation by plant-eating animals, mining, climate change, all-terrain vehicles and grazing, the agency said.

“We find that Tiehm’s Buckwheat is in danger of extinction throughout its range due to the severity and immediacy of the threats currently affecting the species and those which are likely to occur in the near term. “, the agency said.

Thousands of Tiehm buckwheat – found nowhere else in the world – were destroyed last summer by ground squirrels gnawing roots for water, according to the agency. This incident reduced the flower’s population by at least 50% and up to 64%.

The agency said previously the large-scale destruction of buckwheat together with the potential impact of the proposed lithium mine would reduce the total Tiehm buckwheat population by 70-88%, or from 43,921 plants to approximately 5,289 to 8,696 plants.

The endangered species designation does not immediately block the mining project, but could hamper licensing and funding efforts.

Australia-based Ioneer, who is leading the open-pit lithium mine project on the plant’s habitat, said the proposed rule to list Tiehm’s buckwheat as endangered was expected and doesn’t believe the decision to the agency is a major obstacle.

“From the outset, the operation of Rhyolite Ridge was designed and planned to integrate the conservation and protection of Tiehm buckwheat,” said pioneer general manager Bernard Rowe in a statement. “We have always firmly understood the need to protect this species, regardless of its listing status, given its small population and limited geographic distribution along the boundaries of the area in which we operate. “

The company has argued that its lithium operations may coexist with Tiehm’s buckwheat due to its recovery efforts, including a plan to transplant live plants to another location.

Federal wildlife officials, however, say the company’s plans to transplant the flowers would likely fail because Tiehm’s buckwheat requires lithium-rich soil found near large deposits like Rhyolite Ridge.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which originally submitted the petition for the flower’s listing, said the United States should make preserving biodiversity a priority. In April, the Center also successfully sued the Wildlife Service for a expedited decision on whether to inscribe the flower or not.

“This is a landmark day for native plant conservation,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center. “This vulnerable little wildflower has captured the imaginations of people around the world. Extinction is a political choice, and the Biden administration has made the right choice to prevent this special plant from being extinct forever.

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