A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to make a determination on the listing of a rare Nevada wildflower as an endangered species within the next 30 days.
The order comes after the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group, sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management in September, urging the agencies to list Nevada’s rare Tiehm’s buckwheat as “endangered” or “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act after discovering wide-scale destruction to the plants that destroyed more than 40 percent of the total global population.
Until recently, the species did not face significant threats due to its remote location. However, increased interest in mining around the state, particularly for lithium, has put the plant at risk.
An Australian mining company, Ioneer Corp., has proposed an open-pit lithium mine in Esmeralda County on the plant’s only known habitat, risking its extinction in the wild.
“Today’s ruling by the federal court in Nevada is not unexpected. Judge Mahan’s decision is simply focused on procedural issues, including the timing of FWS’s listing recommendation for Tiehm’s buckwheat, and in no way dictates an outcome of the FWS listing decision – it just requires them to propose a decision by a certain date,” said Ioneer managing director Bernard Rowe in a statement. “Throughout this process, ioneer has worked closely with all parties involved, including FWS and U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to ensure decisions made regarding this important species are based on the best available science. We are confident that the science strongly supports the coexistence of our vital lithium operation and Tiehm’s buckwheat.”
On Wednesday, U.S. District of Nevada Judge James Mahan ruled the Fish and Wildlife Service must issue an endangered species listing decision within 30 days, saying that the plant’s situation qualifies as an “emergency posing a significant risk to the well-being” of Tiehm’s buckwheat.
“We’re thrilled a federal judge agrees that Tiehm’s buckwheat is facing a dire emergency,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. “This is one of the most endangered plants in the United States. The federal government now has to follow through and protect this species before Ioneer’s mine drives it to extinction.”
The Bureau of Land Management has already designated the plant as a “sensitive species” and Nevada is also considering the buckwheat for listing as a “fully protected species” under state statute.
More than 100 scientists and 15 conservation groups wrote a January letter urging the Biden administration to protect Tiehm’s buckwheat under the Endangered Species Act.
“Tiehm’s buckwheat is an emblem of the remarkable biodiversity that makes Nevada such a special place,” said Naomi Fraga, director of conservation at the California Botanic Garden in Claremont, who led the letter. With Wednesday’s ruling, the Fish and Wildlife Service has “no choice but to protect this plant under the Endangered Species Act. It clearly qualifies, and without those protections, it will be on a path to extinction.”