US fights new deadline for rare plant protections in Nevada
RENO, Nev. (AP) — The Biden administration says a U.S. judge exceeded his authority when he gave federal wildlife officials a May 21 deadline to decide whether to formally propose endangered species protections for a rare desert wildflower at the center of a fight over a proposed lithium mine in Nevada.
Lawyers for the Interior Department filed an emergency request in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas last week asking Judge James Mahan to reconsider his order regarding the fate of the only Tiehm’s buckwheat plants known to exist in the world — about 220 miles (354 kilometers) southeast of Reno.
The department says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intends to comply with the order to reach a finding by May 21 on whether the flower should receive protections under the Endangered Species Act.
But it says it will be impossible to decide by then whether to designate critical habitat that conservationists want for the plant in an area where Australian mining company Ioneer Ltd. wants to dig for lithium and boron.
The judge on Friday granted the government’s request to block his order until he can rule on the merits of the arguments. Mahan ordered the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued over the plant, to respond by Tuesday and the government to reply by Thursday. He expects to issue a formal ruling on May 17.
The Fish and Wildlife Service was supposed to decide last October whether to list the plant as endangered. It had said staff and budget constraints would prevent it from deciding until Sept. 30, 2021. Environmentalists first petitioned for the listing in 2019.
Mahan said in his April 21 ruling that “more than enough time has passed” to complete the required yearlong review.
“By its own admission, FWS has violated the ESA by failing to issue a timely 12-month...