Zone to protect rare flower should not have significant impact on planned lithium mine

February 3, 2022

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will permanently zone off 368 ha (910 acres) near ioneer Ltd’s proposed lithium mine in Nevada to preserve a rare flower.

The move was expected by ioneer and will help the company advance its plans to build the Rhyolite Ridge lithium mine, one of the largest lithium mines in the United States.

“We fully support the proposed ESA listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the work it and the BLM are undertaking to safeguard Tiehm’s buckwheat. ioneer reiterates its commitment to preservation of this species,” ioneer managing director Bernard Rowe said in a statement. “From the beginning, the Rhyolite Ridge operation has been designed and planned to incorporate the conservation and protection of Tiehm’s buckwheat. We have always firmly understood the need to protect this species, irrespective of its listing status."

Reuters reported that the mysterious death of more than 17,000 Tiehm’s buckwheat flowers near the mine site in 2020 sparked allegations from conservationists of a “premeditated” attack in which the plants – found nowhere else on earth – were “dug up and destroyed.”

Australia-based ioneer denied harming the flowers and the Fish and Wildlife Service later blamed thirsty squirrels.

Conservationists pushed for the flower to be declared endangered and regulators agreed last fall, dealing a blow to the project, which sits on federal land roughly 362 km (225 miles) north of Las Vegas.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said in the filing that the 368 ha (910 acre) zone is necessary to ensure the plants can survive. But, in a boost for ioneer, they added that the zone should “not have a significant economic impact” on nearby business activity.

The company still needs to obtain permitting, though that has not stopped financing efforts or scared off customers.

“ioneer will ensure the necessary measures are in place to mitigate any potential indirect impacts of our operations and natural threats to the plant,” Rowe said. “Core to our strategy is avoidance (no direct impact) and minimization of any indirect impacts by our operations coupled with appropriate mitigation measures. Our propagation and seedling transplant programs will not only see populations expanded, but also reduce the risk to the plant from further climate-related impacts and herbivory.

“Based upon the best available science, we are highly confident that with a combination of avoidance, protection and seedling propagation, as has been successfully demonstrated with other mat buckwheat species in the region, we can achieve the successful coexistence of Tiehm’s buckwheat and our environmentally significant project, which will supply critically needed lithium products in the U.S.,” said Rowe.


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