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A Small, Rare Flower Could Stop A Major Mining Plan In Nevada

Tiehm's buckwheat
Jim Morefield/Flickr

Tiehm's buckwheat

You may not have ever heard of the Tiehm’s Buckwheat. 

It’s a flower that ONLY grows in a small patch of land in central Nevada.  

And it could be sitting atop one of the most promising lithium deposits in the world.  

Which puts its very existence under threat from mining companies eager to meet a growing demand to power things like electric vehicles. 

Records released this week show one company in particular – Ioneer - knows the mitigation they were planning for the flower won’t work. 

The Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned to list the plant under the Endangered Species Act. 

Patrick Donnelly is the Nevada State Director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

“Ioneer’s plan for this mine would involve bulldozing almost all of the buckwheat’s native habitat," Donnelly said, "So, they have purposed this mitigation scheme where they would basically establish new populations of the buckwheat elsewhere.”

Ioneer hired researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno to find out if they could move the plants somewhere else.

In records obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity through a public records request, those researchers told the mining company that the plan to move the plants wouldn't work and that they believed the plant should be listed as endangered.

“It is really damning evidence in our favor,” Donnelly said.


KNPR News did reach out to Ioneer to join us for an interview but they did not get back to us.  

However, Ioneer did talk to the Associated Press. It said it would ensure the protection and expansion of the buckwheat.

Donnelly called the comments "greenwashing."

“They’re saying destroying 85 percent of the plant’s habitat would be saving the plant,” he said, “In reality, they’re destroying most of the plant’s habitat and their own researchers think the mitigation won’t be effective.”

The Tiehm's buckwheat - named after UNR research Jerry Tiehm, who identified the species and many others in Nevada - is tiny but important to biodiversity in general, Donnelly said.

“Without biodiversity, humans won’t exist on this earth anymore,” he said, “Exacerbating the extinction crisis, right here in Nevada, could have cascading results on the global systems that make life on Earth possible that we can’t even envision.”

Donnelly said that Tiehm's buckwheat might be a small flower in the middle of nowhere Nevada but it is a piece of an overall system that impacts all life - including human life.

“So, as Tiehm’s buckwheat goes, so perhaps, may our own fate go,” he said.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife is moving forward on its year-long review of the buckwheat to see if it should be put on the Endangered Species List. 

“Ultimately, that final decision will either be to list the plant under the Endangered Species Act or not and we are very confident that the preponderance of evidence leans heavily towards listing this plant under the Endangered Species Act,” Donnelly said.

He noted this type of situation is exactly why the act was created in the first place.

“This plant is facing imminent extinction and only the Endangered Species Act can save it," he said.

Patrick Donnelly, Nevada State Director, Center for Biological Diversity.  

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Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.