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Rodents, not humans, caused damage to rare Nevada wildflowers, says U.S. govt agency

·1 min read

Dec 4 (Reuters) - The widespread damage to rare Nevada wildflowers in September was due to ground squirrels, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has said, a reprieve for Australian lithium developer ioneer Ltd blamed by an environmental group for the destruction.

The Center for Biological Diversity last month said conservationists discovered that "someone had dug up and destroyed" more than 17,000 Tiehm's buckwheat plants, a rare Nevada wildflower the U.S. government agency said this summer may warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said on Friday environmental DNA analysis conducted on damaged roots of Tiehm's buckwheat, nearby soils and rodent scat strongly support that ground squirrels were responsible for the damage.

Current drought conditions likely motivated the rodents to seek moisture by consuming the shallow taproots of mature buckwheat plants, the report said.

The environmental group had sued U.S. regulators last year for granting ioneer permits to explore for lithium in the northern part of Nevada, arguing that the region where the company is operating is the main habitat for the flower.

Ioneer said the company would continue to work to "ensure the protection and propagation of this species."

(Reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)