Feds list rare NV wildflower, Tiehm’s buckwheat, as endangered

Lithium developer says project can ‘successfully coexist’ with plant

By: - December 14, 2022 3:34 pm

Tiehm’s buckwheat. (Center for Biological Diversity photo)

A rare desert wildflower known to only grow in Nevada has been listed as endangered and will be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday.

Tiehm’s buckwheat’s entire global population grows on about 10 acres of land in the Silver Peak Range of Esmeralda County. The listing also designated about 910 acres of surrounding land as protected critical habitat to support the wildflowers’ conservation and reproduction. 

“Habitat loss is pushing more and more limited-range species like Tiehm’s buckwheat to the brink of extinction,” said FWS director Martha Williams, in a statement. “We look forward to working with our partners on this conservation effort to protect this rare plant and its habitat.”

Federal wildlife managers said the critical habitat they designated contains physical and biological features essential to the conservation of the native species, including open, sparsely vegetated areas, suitable soil and year-round and connected habitat for pollinators. 

The decision comes after the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group, sued the agency in 2020 for federal protection determination after discovering wide-scale destruction to the buckwheat that destroyed more than 50% of the total population. 

Until recently, the species did not face significant threats due to its remote location. However, climate change, rodent damage, and increased interest in mining around the state—particularly for lithium—has put the plant at risk, said the agency. The wildflower requires soil high in lithium and boron, making its habitat vulnerable to developers and mining interests.

Tiehm’s buckwheat has been a source of conflict between conservationists and an Australian mining company, Ioneer Corp., seeking to build an open-pit lithium mine on the plant’s only known habitat, risking its extinction in the wild.

The agency noted that Ioneer’s latest operations plan for the mine could potentially “disturb and remove up to 38% of the critical habitat for this species, impacting pollinator populations, altering hydrology, removing soil, and risking subsidence.”

The endangered species designation does not immediately block the mining project, but could impede permitting and financing efforts. Federal wildlife managers said that by establishing critical habitat for the species, future development could more effectively plan and design projects while avoiding the destruction of the plant’s habitat.

Lithium developer Ioneer has argued its latest lithium operations plan can “successfully coexist” with Tiehm’s buckwheat by avoiding direct impacts to the plant, minimizing indirect impacts, and minimizing disturbance within designated critical habitat. 

The developer added that Wednesday’s announcement “provides further clarity for a path forward for the development” of their lithium project.

Ioneer managing director Bernard Rowe said the company “fully supports the listing of Tiehm’s buckwheat as an endangered species and critical habitat designation. We are committed to the protection and conservation of the species and have incorporated numerous measures into our current and future plans to ensure this occurs.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned for the wildflower’s listing, argued Ioneer’s revised mitigation plans would not effectively protect the buckwheat. 

Patrick Donelly, the Great Basin director for the Center for Biological Diversity, vowed to “use the full power of the Endangered Species Act to ensure Ioneer doesn’t harm one hair on a buckwheat’s head.”

“I’m thrilled that Tiehm’s buckwheat now has the protections it so desperately needs for survival,” Donnelly said. “Lithium is an important part of our renewable energy transition, but it can’t come at the cost of extinction. The Service did the right thing by protecting this precious wildflower.”

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Jeniffer Solis
Jeniffer Solis

Jeniffer was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada where she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas before graduating in 2017 with a B.A in Journalism and Media Studies.