SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity, California Native Plant Society and a botanist who studies the rare Inyo rock daisy formally petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today to protect the rare daisy under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The groups also submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission today to protect the species under the California Endangered Species Act.
“This sweet little flower is incredibly rare, and nearly every population is found on mining claims,” said botanist Maria Jesus, who is the petition’s primary author and recently completed field surveys documenting the plants’ current range. “These protections will ensure that the daisies aren’t bulldozed out of existence. We’re in an extinction crisis and we can’t afford to lose another species.”
The Inyo rock daisy is a rare wildflower found only at the highest elevations of the southern Inyo Mountains, between the Eastern Sierra and Death Valley National Park in California. It lives on ancient carbonate bedrock that possibly holds submicroscopic gold, and now a large-scale gold mining project is proposed in one of the few places the rock daisy occurs, Conglomerate Mesa.
In 2019 a Canadian mining company claimed to have found evidence of a large gold deposit in the area. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is reviewing the company’s proposal to conduct exploration activities in the plant’s habitat; if commercially viable quantities of gold are found, the area could be developed into a large open-pit mine, which would permanently destroy the Inyo rock daisy’s prime habitat.
“These wildflowers endured decades of historic mining, but they sure don’t stand a chance against today’s industrial-scale operations,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center. “Federal and state protections are crucial so these special daisies can avoid the onslaught of open-pit mining, which would destroy their primary home.”
Most of the wildflower’s range is designated as part of the National Conservation Lands system, but these conservation lands remain open for commercial extraction under the antiquated 1872 Mining Law. They include the Cerro Gordo and Conglomerate Mesa, which the BLM has designated as areas of critical environmental concern to protect numerous sensitive plant species, Joshua tree woodlands and other natural resources.
“It is a sad day when one of our precious wildflowers requires the protection of the Endangered Species Act,” said CNPS Conservation Program Director Nick Jensen. “That said, I think we have the opportunity to safeguard this species before mining brings it to the brink of extinction.”
Blooming during the heat of the summer when other desert plants have gone dormant, the bright yellow flowers of the Inyo rock daisy attract many insect visitors. These pollinators are a critical part of the wildflower’s life cycle since pollen from distant flowers is needed for reproduction.
In addition to loss of habitat from an open-pit mine, mining operations would likely harm plant reproduction by fragmenting habitat and driving away pollinators. The Inyo rock daisy is also threatened by invasive plant species, climate change and harmful genetic consequences because of its small population size.