State Votes to Protect Imperiled Wildflower Threatened by California Gold Mining

State Votes to Protect Imperiled Wildflower Threatened by California Gold Mining

LOS ANGELES— The California Fish and Game Commission agreed today to temporarily protect Inyo rock daisies under the California Endangered Species Act while the state studies whether to safeguard them permanently.

“This vote moves this special wildflower one step closer to protection,” said botanist Maria Jesus, whose field surveys document the plant’s current range. “With the threat of an industrial-scale mine looming on the horizon, the outcome of the state’s research will shape the fate of this rare daisy.”

Today’s unanimous vote grants the wildflowers candidate status under the California Endangered Species Act. That gives them legal protection during a yearlong review to determine whether the species should be formally protected under state law.

In February 2022 Jesus, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the California Native Plant Society petitioned the commission to protect the daisy. Today’s vote affirms the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s recommendation to protect the plant as a candidate species.

“I’m thrilled the commission has provided temporary protections for these incredibly rare cliff-dwelling flowers,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center. “These are tough little daisies, but they’ll need permanent state and federal protection to survive the onslaught of mining in their home.”

The Inyo rock daisy is a rare wildflower found only at the highest elevations of the southern Inyo Mountains, located between the Eastern Sierra and Death Valley National Park. It lives on ancient carbonate bedrock on Conglomerate Mesa, which is threatened by gold mining.

“What’s more valuable than gold? Protecting life from extinction,” said Nick Jensen, conservation program director at the California Native Plant Society. “We are in a global extinction crisis, and California has more imperiled species than any state in the U.S. It would be an outrageous time to allow gold mining operations to destroy such important habitat; we’re grateful that the commission’s action gives the Inyo rock daisy a fighting chance.”

In 2019 a Canadian mining company claimed to have found evidence of a large gold deposit in the area. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is working with the company to do further gold mining exploration in the plant’s habitat. If commercially viable quantities of gold are found, the area could be developed into a large open-pit mine, which would permanently destroy the Inyo rock daisy’s core habitat.

Most of the wildflower’s range is designated as part of the National Conservation Lands System, but these conservation lands remain open for development under the antiquated 1872 Mining Law. This area includes the Cerro Gordo and Conglomerate Mesa Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, which were designated to protect numerous sensitive plant species, Joshua tree woodlands, and other nationally significant values, including cultural ones.

Blooming during the heat of the summer when other desert plants have gone dormant, the Inyo rock daisy sports bright yellow flowers that attract many insect visitors. The pollinators are a critical part of the wildflower’s life cycle, since pollen from distant flowers is needed for reproduction.

In addition to loss of habitat from an open pit mine, mining operations would likely harm plant reproduction by fragmenting habitat and driving away pollinators. The daisy is also threatened by invasive plants, climate change, and harmful genetic consequences because of its small population size.

A separate petition submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the federal Endangered Species Act is pending.

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