For Immediate Release, December 19, 2022
Patrick Donnelly, (702) 483-0449, firstname.lastname@example.org
BLM Starts Permitting for Nevada Lithium Mine That Threatens Rare Wildflower
Notice Comes Days After Endangered Species Listing
RENO, Nev.— The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced the start of environmental review today for a Nevada lithium mine that jeopardizes an endangered wildflower, kicking off a 30-day scoping comment period that spans the holidays.
The announcement comes less than a week after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the rare Nevada wildflower Tiehm’s buckwheat an endangered species because of the threat posed by the Rhyolite Ridge Mine.
“Rhyolite Ridge Mine poses an existential threat to Tiehm’s buckwheat, and we’re gearing up for a fight,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The recent endangered species listing gives us the most powerful tool in the conservation toolbox to prevent the extinction of this rare, beautiful wildflower.”
Earlier plans for Rhyolite Ridge Mine called for the complete destruction and removal of most Tiehm’s buckwheat plants. Now Australian mining company Ioneer’s proposal is to almost completely surround most of the buckwheat with open-pit mining operations, leaving just a 12-foot buffer between the endangered species and the mining pit.
In the Endangered Species Act listing for Tiehm’s buckwheat, published Friday, the Service said Ioneer’s plan would “disturb and remove up to 38% of the critical habitat for this species, impacting pollinator populations, altering hydrology, removing soil, and risking subsidence.”
In addition to protecting Tiehm’s buckwheat as an endangered species, the Service also protected 910 acres of critical habitat for the rare wildflower, which includes the plants and a 500-meter buffer. This was determined to be an “area sufficient to support the maximum foraging distance of primary insect visitors… that are presumed to be the pollinators of Tiehm’s buckwheat.”
In 2021 the Center proposed a protected area around the wildflowers with a one-mile buffer. There is an extensive body of peer-reviewed literature demonstrating that harm to rare plants from dust and pollution deposits from mining is most severe within one mile of mining operations.
“Ioneer’s ‘Buckwheat Island’ scenario would spell doom for this sensitive little flower,” said Donnelly. “The Endangered Species Act is designed to protect not just plants and animals but the ecosystems those species depend on. We’re going to fight tooth and nail to stop Ioneer from destroying Tiehm’s buckwheat’s ecosystem.”
The mine announcement and endangered species listing for the buckwheat come just weeks after the Service gave endangered species status to another rare Nevada endemic, the Dixie Valley toad. That species is threatened by a geothermal power plant being proposed by developer Ormat and being permitted and pushed forward by the BLM.
In both instances the BLM and Fish and Wildlife Service appear to be at cross purposes, with the Service declaring species endangered precisely because of actions the other federal agency is approving.
“We have to transition to renewable energy to address the climate emergency, but we can’t wipe plants and animals off the planet in the process,” said Donnelly. “If the Biden administration wants the renewable energy transition to succeed, it needs to devise a plan that doesn’t drive species extinct.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.