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Cows threatening protected flowers, activists say

Updated January 12, 2023 - 9:26 am

ESMERALDA COUNTY — The Center for Biological Diversity says it intends to sue the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to protect the rare Nevada wildflower Tiehm’s buckwheat from destruction after seeing cattle grazing where the endangered species grows.

The notice filed by the Center this week seeks to remove the cows from the buckwheat’s federally protected critical habitat.

“Tiehm’s buckwheat is one of North America’s most endangered plants, but federal officials are letting the livestock industry run roughshod over its fragile habitat,” said Patrick Donnelly, the Center’s Great Basin director, who documented the damage. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized cattle grazing as a threat to the buckwheat’s existence, but the Bureau of Land Management has done nothing to protect these wildflowers.”

Tiehm’s buckwheat is a small wildflower with yellow pom-pom flowers that grows on just 10 acres of public land in the Silver Peak Range of Esmeralda County. The rare plants are threatened by the proposed Rhyolite Ridge lithium mine, according to conservationists, and after years of advocacy and litigation by the Center, Tiehm’s buckwheat was listed under the Endangered Species Act in December 2022 and given additional protections for critical habitat across its entire tiny range.

On Jan. 3, the Center discovered seven cows grazing within this fragile plant’s habitat, destroying individual plants and degrading itsl habitat. Last year the BLM claimed that cattle had been voluntarily removed from the site, according to Donnelly.

In an additional blow to the plant, a mysterious incident in 2020 killed more than 50 percent of the Tiehm’s buckwheat population, leaving approximately 15,000 plants remaining on Earth.

“Each one of these plants is precious and essential for the recovery of this endangered species,” said Donnelly. “It’s totally unacceptable that the BLM is letting cows destroy this wildflower’s protected critical habitat while greenlighting a lithium mine that could wipe out the whole species. We’re going to court to hold this agency accountable for protecting each and every buckwheat.”

The presence of Tiehm’s buckwheat has complicated the plans of Australian mining company Ioneer to develop its Rhyolite Ridge Lithium-Boron Project.The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is in the midst of scoping public comments to gather input that will guide in the final planning stages of the proposed mining operation.

Other species at risk

The buckwheat plant is not the only endangered species in the area that’s at risk for extinction, according to conservationists.

Last month, the Fish and Wildlife Service also named to the federal Endangered Species List the Dixie Valley toad, an amphibian the size of a quarter that lives only in Nevada’s Dixie Meadows Hot Springs. The hot springs and surrounding land are also sacred to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe.

The Dixie Valley toad has caused geothermal developer Ormat Technologies to modify its plans and reduce the capacity of a planned project.

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