Nevada flower listed as endangered at lithium mine site

RENO, Nev. (AP) – U.S. wildlife officials on Wednesday declared a Nevada wildflower endangered in the only place it’s known to exist — on a high desert ridge where a lithium mine is planned to help meet the growing demand for electric car batteries.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s formal listing of Tiehm’s buckwheat and accompanying designation of 910 acres (368 hectares) of critical habitat for the 6-inch (15-centimeter tall) flower with yellow blooms raises another potential obstacle for President Joe Biden “Green Energy” Agenda.

With an estimated remaining population of only about 16,000 plants, the service concluded that Tiehm’s buckwheat is on the verge of extinction.

“We find that a threatened species status is not appropriate because the threats are severe and imminent, and Tiehm’s buckwheat is in danger of extinction now, rather than at risk of becoming endangered in the future,” the agency said.

The proposal is just the biggest threat to the flower. It is also threatened by road construction, livestock grazing, rodents that eat it, invasive plants and climate change, the service said. It said an apparent unprecedented rodent attack wiped out about 60% of its estimated population in 2020.

Ioneer, the Australian mining company that has been planning to mine for lithium for years where the flower grows on federal land halfway between Reno and Las Vegas, says it has developed a protection plan that would allow the plant and the project to coexist.

But the listing under the Endangered Species Act subjects the mine to its strictest regulatory requirements to date.

It also highlights the challenges the Biden administration faces in its efforts to combat climate change through an accelerated transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“Lithium is an important part of our renewable energy transition, but it can’t come at the cost of extinction,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director for the Center for Biological Diversity, who petitioned for listing in 2019. and sued last year to speed up plant protection.

Ioneer said the decision “provides further clarity for the path forward” and is “fully in line with Ioneer’s expectations” for the mine site development at Rhyolite Ridge in the Silver Peak Range west of Tonopah, near the border with California.

“We are committed to the protection and conservation of species and have incorporated numerous measures into our current and future plans to ensure that this happens,” Ioneer Chief Executive Officer Bernard Rowe said in a statement.

“Our operations have and will continue to avoid all Tiehm buckwheat populations,” he said.

The service’s final listing rule will be published Thursday in the Federal Register.

Environmentalists who have sued to protect the plant insist Ioneer’s mitigation plan won’t pass the legal appeal. They pledge to resume the legal battle if necessary to protect buckwheat habitat from the rush to develop new lithium deposits.

The flowers are found on a total of just 10 acres (4 hectares) spread across approximately 3 square miles (7.8 square kilometers). Federal agencies are prohibited from approving any activities on federal lands that could destroy, modify or adversely affect critical habitat of any listed species.

Donnelly said the company’s latest operating plan for the mine’s first phase proposes avoiding a “small island of land” containing 75 percent of its population, surrounded by an open pit mine and tailings dump within 12 feet ( 3.7 meters) from the flowers.

The Bureau of Land Management is reviewing the environmental impacts of Ioneer’s latest operations and protection plans.

But Donnelley noted that the USFWS estimated in Wednesday’s final listing rule that the proposed scenario would “disturb and remove up to 38 percent of critical habitat for this species, impact pollinator populations, alter hydrology, remove the soil and risking subsidence”.

“Ioneer’s ‘Buckwheat Island’ scenario would spell doom for this sensitive little flower,” Donnelly said.

The mine is among several renewable energy projects facing legal or regulatory challenges in Nevada. They include another proposed lithium mine near the Oregon border and a geothermal power plant where the Dixie Valley toad has been declared endangered in wetlands about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Reno.

“Now that buckwheat is protected, we will use the full force of the Endangered Species Act to make sure Ioneer doesn’t damage a hair on a buckwheat’s head,” Donnelly said.

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