It estimates as many as 17,000 plants were lost — up to 40% of the entire population.
Patrick Donnelly, the center’s Nevada director, and Naomi Fraga, director of conservation at the California Botanic Garden in Claremont, discovered and photographed the damage Sept. 13. They believe the plants were removed with small shovels or spades.
“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,” Donnelly said.
He wasn’t aware at the time that researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno had observed the same phenomenon Sept. 8 and reported it to the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Division of Natural Heritage.
Elizabeth Leger, a UNR biology professor leading a research effort to try to transplant the wildflower , is among those who suspect small animals caused the damage at the site of the proposed mine with a projected value of more than $1 billion.
“The impact on the plants is very alarming, no matter what the cause,” said Leger, who directs UNR’s Museum of Natural History.
Ioneer executive chairman James Calaway doubts anywhere near 17,000 plants were impacted but said it could be in the “low thousands.”