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California grants protections for Inyo rock daisy

The Inyo rock daisy — a rare California flower that sprouts from the crevices of cliff walls in the southern Inyo Mountains — has been listed as a state threatened species following public outcry over nearby mining operations.

The California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to grant protections to the flower, which only grows near Death Valley National Park.

The listing requires that state and federal agencies manage threats to the daisy and its primary domain high on Conglomerate Mesa, a 22,500-acre chunk of pinon pines, rock spires and limestone located about 10 miles southeast of Lone Pine, a town in the Eastern Sierra Nevada.

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Mojave Precious Metals, a local subsidiary of K2 Gold Corp. of Vancouver, Canada, has been drilling and trenching on public lands in the area in preparation for development of a full-scale open pit mine, according to officials.

Defenders of the daisy lauded the commission’s decision Wednesday.

“Everyone will have to pay a lot more attention to this little daisy from here on out,” said, Maria Jesus, a conservationist at the nonprofit California Botanic Garden in Claremont. “It would be hard to make the case for a giant mine to move forward in the only place it is found.”

Mojave Precious Metals was not immediately available for comment.

The total population of Perityle inyoensis is estimated to number in the low thousands, and would have to expand many times before Inyo rock daisy advocates say they can rest easy.

One year ago, Jesus; Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity; and the California Native Plant Society submitted petitions to the Fish and Game Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking to have the Inyo rock daisy listed as a threatened or endangered species.

“The commission made the right move,” Anderson said. “These are tough little daisies, but they can’t survive the onslaught of mining threats in their home without this permanent state protection.”

“I’m hopeful federal protection will follow so they can recover and thrive,” she added.

In March, a separate petition was submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, launching a yearlong review to determine if the daisy also warrants permanent federal protection, adding another layer of regulatory restrictions to safeguard it from mining operations that use tons of cyanide to leach gold from heaps of crushed ore — a technique that has transformed previously unprofitable mines into bonanzas.

The daisy’s range remains part of the ancestral homeland of the contemporary Timbisha Shoshone Tribe and the Lone Pine Paiute-Shoshone Tribe. It is also grows within portions of the national Conservation Lands System. These lands remain open for development under a controversial 1872 mining law, Anderson said.

At stake, environmentalists say, is the future of 22,500 acres of rugged public lands — with scant rainfall, a dearth of natural springs and elevations that range from 3,800 to 7,100 feet. The area is also home to bighorn sheep, mountain lions and bobcats, as well as the Inyo rock daisy.

“What’s more valuable than gold? Protecting life from extinction,” said Nick Jensen, conservation program director at the plant society. “We’re grateful that the commission’s action gives the Inyo rock daisy a fighting chance.”

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