Rare Nevada Wildflower Proposed for U.S. Endangered Species Act Protection
CountryUnited States of America
In response to a petition and litigation from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to protect Tiehm’s buckwheat under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
The rare wildflower has been at the center of a controversy over a proposed lithium mine that could drive the species to extinction. The entire global habitat of Tiehm’s buckwheat covers just 10 acres of public land in Esmeralda County in western Nevada.
“We’re thrilled that the Biden administration has proposed Endangered Species Act protection for this delicate little flower,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center. “Tiehm’s buckwheat shouldn’t be wiped off the face of the Earth by an open-pit mine. The Service stepping in to save this plant from extinction is the right call.”
The Rhyolite Ridge lithium mine, proposed by Australian mining company Ioneer, targets the same soils where Tiehm’s buckwheat lives. It would wipe out 60% of the plant’s habitat during phase 1 of the mine, and 80% to 90% in phase 2.
In light of this threat, the Center submitted an Endangered Species Act petition in October 2019 with support from Dr. Naomi Fraga, Director of Conservation at the California Botanic Garden. In September 2020, after an unusual incident resulted in the destruction of as much as 40% to 60% of the global population of the species, the Center sued the Service and Bureau of Land Management over delays in protecting it.
In January more than 100 scientists and 15 conservation and botany groups, including BGCI, submitted a letter to the Biden administration urging it to protect the flower right away.
“The scientific community has rallied around this unique little plant, and we’re pleased that the Service is following the science,” said Dr. Fraga, who organized the scientist letter. “Tiehm’s buckwheat is in danger of going extinct if Ioneer moves forward with its mine, and protecting both the plant and its habitat under the Endangered Species Act is the only way to save it.”
Today’s issuance of a 12-month finding is a formal scientific recommendation by the Service, which is meant to inform a proposed Endangered Species Act listing rule. This will be circulated to the public for notice and comment. Under the terms of an agreement reached to conclude the Center’s litigation, the Service will now issue a proposed rule by Sept. 30.
Today’s action does not in itself stop the mine. The Bureau of Land Management was planning to start an environmental impact review for the proposed mine in January, but this has been delayed; there has been no public notice, to date, that this process is starting.
“The Biden administration is at a crossroads, and the Tiehm’s buckwheat is a symbol of our times,” said Donnelly. “Will the clean energy transition choose a new path and support our country’s remarkable biodiversity? Or will it opt for business as usual, with mining and development continuing to fuel the extinction crisis that’s bringing our life-support systems to the brink of collapse? There’s only one way forward, and that’s to protect Tiehm’s buckwheat and stop this destructive mine from driving a species to extinction.”
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