CARSON CITY–The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced today a proposed rule to list the rare Tiehm’s buckwheat wildflower as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
The announcement prompted responses from environmental advocates and a mining company proposing to mine near the plant’s habitat.
Tiehm’s buckwheat is found only in the Silver Peak Range of Esmeralda County, and grows on about 10 acres of lithium-rich soils where the Rhyolite Ridge Mine, a proposed lithium mine to be operated by Australian company ioneer, is located.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) sued the FWS and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in an effort to protect the flower.
CBD alleges that the Rhyolite Ridge Mine would destroy up to 90% of the population of Tiehm’s buckwheat.
After a large portion of the buckwheat population was damaged in the summer of 2020, it became a high-profile plant conservation cause, with stories about it appearing in media outlets across the world.
CBD claimed that the damage was purposefully caused by humans, something that was disputed by scientists at FWS. Officials from ioneer called it an “herbivory incident, where rodents seeking moisture amid severe drought conditions destroyed some of the plants.”
“This is a banner day for native plant conservation,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at CBD. “This vulnerable little wildflower has captured the imagination of people around the world. Extinction is a political choice, and the Biden administration made the right call to prevent this special plant from disappearing forever.”
Officials with ioneer said the decision was in line with “expectations and prior announcements, and the company continues to fully support the FWS’ decisions regarding the ongoing management and protection of Tiehm’s buckwheat populations, including an ESA listing.”
The FWS is expected to make a final listing decision by September 2022, as agreed upon by court stipulation.
“The protection and conservation of Tiehm’s buckwheat … is, and has been, a central part of ioneer’s environmental planning and approvals process for the project,” ioneer officials said in a statement. “This has been factored into every aspect of Rhyolite Ridge’s project planning, including its design, engineering, operational and environmental considerations.”
ioneer Managing Director Bernard Rowe adeed: “We have always firmly understood the need to protect this species, irrespective of its listing status, given its small population and limited geographic spread along the edges of the area we operate in.”
He said ioneer has invested considerable funds into studies and strategies to protect the plant and expand its population and range.
“Based upon the science, we are highly confident that with a combination of avoidance, propagation and translocation, we can achieve the successful coexistence of Tiehm’s buckwheat and our environmentally significant project, which will supply critically needed lithium products in the US,” Rowe said.