Posted by: Sandy Steinman | September 18, 2020

More Than 17,000 Rare Nevada Wildflowers Destroyed

Center for Biological Diversity News Release

Tiehm’s Buckwheat, Under Review for Federal Protection, Loses up to 40% of Population

LAS VEGAS— Conservationists discovered over the weekend that someone had dug up and destroyed more than 17,000 Tiehm’s buckwheat plants, a rare Nevada wildflower the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said this summer may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

As much as 40% of the flower’s global population, which exists on just 21 acres in western Nevada, may have been destroyed.

“This is an absolute tragedy,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Tiehm’s buckwheat is one of the beautiful gems of Nevada’s biodiversity and some monster destroyed thousands of these irreplaceable flowering plants.”

A routine visit to the site by Center staff revealed substantial impacts to all six subpopulations of the flower, with some subpopulations nearly wiped out. Plants were dug up or mangled with shovels, with taproots cut and most of the dead buckwheats hauled off-site.

Tiehm’s buckwheat has been the subject of recent controversy. An Australian mining company, Ioneer Corp., has proposed an open-pit lithium mine that would destroy the vast majority of Tiehm’s buckwheat’s habitat. This spring Ioneer Corp.’s biological consulting firm placed a “missing” poster for the buckwheat at the general store in the nearby town of Dyer, offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who locates a new population of the rare flower.

After a whistleblower revealed mismanagement of the species by the Bureau of Land Management, the Center submitted an emergency petition to protect the plant under the Endangered Species Act in 2019. In response the Fish and Wildlife Service said in July the plant’s protection “may be warranted” and initiated a year-long review.

After the initial discovery of the incident, a field survey conducted by Donnelly and Dr. Naomi Fraga, director of conservation at the California Botanic Garden, revealed approximately 40% mortality to the species across all subpopulations, due to removal or destruction.

“This appears to have been a premeditated, somewhat organized, large-scale operation aimed at wiping out one of the rarest plants on Earth, one that was already in the pipeline for protection,” said Donnelly. “It’s despicable and heartless.”

In a letter sent on Tuesday to the Bureau, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nevada Division of Forestry and Ioneer Corp., Fraga and Donnelly made a series of recommendations to the agencies including: fencing the site, 24-hour security, immediate stabilization and rehabilitation of affected plants, and immediate termination of any monetary rewards, including Ioneer’s, for finding Tiehm’s buckwheat.

Plants can recover from extreme trauma such as that inflicted upon Tiehm’s buckwheat if given protection and potential assistance through plant care, propagation and transplanting. The letter urges the agencies to immediately commence a protection and restoration program.

“I was absolutely devastated when I discovered this annihilation of these beautiful little wildflowers,” said Donnelly. “But we’re not going to let this stop our fight against extinction. We’ll fight for every single buckwheat.”

 


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