US backs rare flower habitat amid Nevada lithium mine fight.

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Unless the Fish and Wildlife Service changes course due to new information, the plant will be declared endangered in September.

RENO, Nev —

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating critical habitat for a Nevada wildflower it is considering listing as endangered amid a dispute over a mine to produce lithium batteries for essential electric vehicles the Biden administration’s plans to fight climate change.

The agency on Wednesday proposed designating critical habitat for Tiehm’s buckwheat on a high desert ridge near the California line halfway between Reno and Las Vegas.

This is the only place in the world where the delicate 15 centimeter tall wildflower with yellow flowers is known.

It is also the site where Ioneer USA Corp. plans to build a large lithium mine.

Ioneer said the proposed designation was “an anticipated development” that “has no material impact on our planned mining operations.”

The Australia-based company noted that mining is permitted in areas designated as critical habitat if approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management.

“Ioneer has already taken this into account in its proposed planning and operations and continues to work closely with both agencies to ensure that its proposed activities will not jeopardize the conservation of the species,” said Wednesday. the company in a press release.

The Fish and Wildlife Service stated in its official notice of the proposed designation that “this unit is critical to the conservation and recovery of Tiehm’s buckwheat because it supports all of the habitat occupied by Tiehm’s buckwheat within the range of the species”.

Environmentalists who have taken legal action to protect the wildflower have welcomed the move.

“This proposed critical habitat rule sends a clear message that protecting Tiehm’s buckwheat’s natural range is the only way to prevent its extinction,” said California Conservation Director Naomi Fraga. Botanic Garden, a group that joined the Center for Biological Diversity. 2019 petition to list the plant as endangered.

Global lithium demand is expected to double by 2025. Most of it currently comes from Australia and South America. Increasing domestic production could potentially lower the price of a key part of President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion climate plan: offering rebates to consumers to trade in gas-powered cars for electric cars.

Ioneer says its mine is expected to produce 22,000 tonnes (19,958 metric tons) of lithium, enough to power hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles a year. But the endangered species listing process has contributed to delays in its initial plans to secure all necessary permits and begin initial construction of the $785 million project before the end of last year.

Unless the Fish and Wildlife Service changes course due to new information, the plant will be declared endangered in September based on a court order and the agency’s final listing rule in October 2021 which concluded that the wildflower may already be on the brink of extinction.

This registration triggers certain regulatory obligations, such as consulting the service before any development or other activity that could harm the plant.

The critical habitat designation also identifies specific habitat that “may require special management and protection” – in this case “to address mining development, road development and (off-road vehicle) activity, grazing livestock, non-native invasive plant species and herbivory”. the agency said.

Tiehm buckwheat grows on about 10 acres (4 hectares) – an area about the size of eight football fields – at Rhyolite Ridge in the Silver Peak Range west of the small community of Tonopah, about 200 miles (322 km) from Reno. It is believed that there are less than 30,000.

The 910 acres (368 hectares) proposed for habitat designation – approximately 1.5 square miles (1.3 square kilometers) – would provide a buffer zone of approximately 1,650 feet (503 meters) around the plants to ensure the access to bees and other pollinators.

Environmentalists argued for a pad three times larger, while Ioneer suggested that less than a tenth of the size proposed by the agency would be sufficient.

The company said its project has a conservation strategy that includes transplanting flowers and growing new ones with seeds it collected through a greenhouse experiment at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Conservationists said the proposed designation reaffirms their claim that it won’t work, or at least pass a legal gathering.

“Ioneer’s plans to destroy much of the plant’s habitat and establish it elsewhere are highly unlikely to qualify for a critical habitat designation, as the rule recognizes that these areas are essential for the ‘species,” said Patrick Donnelly, of Nevada’s Center for Biological Diversity. director.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said Ioneer’s conservation strategy remains “in its early stages.”

He said Ioneer plans to avoid and fence off half of the eight separate spots on the 10-acre (4-hectare) site where the flowers are growing and “remove and salvage any remaining plants…and relocate them to another location. “.

But the agency said soil studies and results from greenhouse experiments show that there is a “unique envelope of soil conditions in which Tiehm’s buckwheat grows that is different from adjacent unoccupied soils.”

“Areas outside the occupied zone do not support these physical and biological characteristics and we are not confident that they would support Tiehm buckwheat populations,” the agency said.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has the authority to exclude the area from a critical habitat designation if she determines that such exclusion would outweigh the benefits, “unless we determine . .. failure to designate such an area will lead to the extinction of the species,” the agency says.

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