Federal judge compels US Fish and Wildlife Service to decide on Tiehm’s Buckwheat protections

Audio: interview with Center for Biological Diversity's Patrick Donnelly

Tiehm's buckwheat - photo: Patrick Donnelly/Center for Biological Diversity

In January of this year, the Australian company ioneer Ltd. announced its successful conversion of lithium carbonate into battery-grade lithium hydroxide at its Rhyolite Ridge pilot plant in Esmeralda County, Nevada. Complicating the mine’s pending approval is that the only known population of Tiehm’s buckwheat is largely located where the mine is planned.

The Center For Biological Diversity (CBD) brought a lawsuit after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) failed to meet legally required deadlines to respond to the organization’s 2019 Endangered Species Act petition to protect the wildflower. 

Yesterday, U.S. District of Nevada Judge James C. Mahan ruled that the USFWS must issue an endangered species listing decision within 30 days. Judge Mahan said in his ruling that the plant’s situation qualifies as an “emergency posing a significant risk to the well-being” of Tiehm’s buckwheat.

Tiehm’s buckwheat is a wildflower that grows on roughly 10 acres of public land in the Silver Peak Range of western Nevada. The species is specially adapted to mineralized soils that  contain high levels of lithium and boron. Should the plant be protected under the Endangered Species Act, it could fatally complicate the mine’s approval, though ioneer has said they have a workaround.

In September of last year, the buckwheat’s viability was threatened after 40 percent of the plant’s population was decimated in a controversial act of destruction.

To learn more about yesterday’s ruling, we spoke with Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director, Center for Biological Diversity.

ioneer Ltd. released a statement on Judge Mahon’s ruling. From Managing Director Bernard Rowe: 

“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. 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. As we have stated from the beginning, our commitment is to producing a first-class project that allows for the development of critical supply of lithium, while also ensuring the protection of the Tiehm’s buckwheat. We know by working together, we can ensure we help meet the needed climate goals of today while protecting and uplifting Tiehm’s buckwheat in its habitat.”