US Rare Wildflower Nevada Lithium Mine

A botanist hired by Ioneer Ltd., which plans to mine a promising deposit of lithium near Reno, believes a rare desert wildflower at the Nevada site — Tiehm’s buckwheat, shown — should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A botanist hired by a company planning to mine one of the world’s most promising deposits of lithium believes a rare desert wildflower at the Nevada site should be protected under the Endangered Species Act, which could jeopardize the project, documents show.

The disclosure is included in more than 500 pages of emails obtained by conservationists and reviewed by The Associated Press regarding Ioneer Ltd.’s plans to mine near the only population of Tiehm’s buckwheat known to exist.

Six months of communications between government scientists, Ioneer’s representatives and University of Nevada, Reno, researchers also show that the director of UNR’s work — financed by Ioneer — repeatedly pushed back against company pressure to publicize early success of efforts to grow buckwheat seedlings.

“I’m not used to such a focus on in-progress research,” biology professor Beth Leger wrote in April. “I feel like maybe one very important thing isn’t clear, and that’s that these plants could die at any stage of this experiment.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned last year to have the plant listed under the Endangered Species Act, obtained the documents under a Nevada public records request.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced that it has received enough information to warrant a full-year review of the buckwheat’s status 200 miles southeast of Reno to determine if it should be federally protected.

The emails include an April exchange with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife official who shared concerns expressed by the head of Nevada’s own state listing review about Ioneer’s transplanting strategy.

“This document is at best a mitigation plan, certainly not a ‘protection plan,’ ” James Morefield, supervisory botanist for Nevada’s Division of Natural Heritage, wrote to the service April 16.

Ioneer has spent millions of dollars at the site rich with lithium needed to manufacture such things as batteries. That includes UNR’s $60,000 grant to study buckwheat transplants.

Ioneer President Bernard Rowe told the AP in March that the company’s plans “will ensure protection and, in fact, the expansion of the buckwheat population.”

The emails indicate that UNR scientists and a private one at EM Strategies — Ioneer’s consultant — believe the propagation efforts don’t yet prove they could ensure the species’ survival.

“Nothing we are researching is a quick fix, or even a fix. There isn’t a fix for this type of impact,” EM Strategies’ biology manager, Kris Kuyper, wrote to a UNR researcher Jan. 7. “I’m sure it will be listed (it should be), then it will be a matter of consultation with the USFWS.”

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