BUTTERCUP — A conservation group is arguing that the Alaskan glacier buttercup, or Ranunculus glacialis ssp. alaskensis deserves federal protection.

Conservationists ask feds to protect rare Kigluaik buttercup flower

A conservation nonprofit has petitioned the federal government to protect a rare flower only found in the Kigluaik Mountains.
The Center for Biological Diversity has asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Alaskan glacier buttercup (Ranunculus glacialis ssp alaskensis) as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
This rare plant, which was first described by Western scientists in the 1990s, has only been documented on seven scree slopes in the western and southeastern areas of the Kigluaik Mountains, according to the petition filed last Thursday.
The organization says the plant is not only threatened by climate change but also the proposed mine being explored by Graphite One.
“I think the choice between protecting a one-of-a-kind flower and a renewable energy transition is a false one,” Cooper Freeman, the Alaska representative at the Center told the Nugget. “We can’t use the same dig, burn and dump mentality that got us into this mess in the first place to get us out of it. The dual threat of rapid climate change and disruptive industrialization in the Arctic is a biodiversity death sentence. And we need to reject the narrative that we can’t protect the Arctic and solve the climate crisis at the same time. We can and must do both.”
Graphite One has been proposing to extract graphite—a key component of electric vehicle batteries—from the northern slopes of the Kigluaiks. The company’s pitch to build a domestic supply chain of graphite has attracted federal support, with the U.S. Department of Defense awarding Graphite One a $37.5 million grant last year.
The company’s plan includes building an access road that’s more than 20 miles long to connect the mine with the Kougarok Road. The Center for Biological Diversity’s petition claims that this road might destroy some habitat of the flower and harm the species with the dust that haul trucks generate. The Center also claims that off-road vehicles and human trampling would be “exacerbated by the proposed mining road bisecting the mountain range.”
The Botany Department at University of Alaska Anchorage Natural Heritage Program, which tracks rare plants across the state, has documented less than 20 occurrences of the Alaskan glacier buttercup. Freeman noted that all of those known occurrences are relatively close to the Teller and Kougarok roads. So these spots don’t necessarily reflect the only places the species grows, he said, but might just reflect the habitats that have been easiest to access.
“One of the outcomes of highlighting not just this plant, but the incredible flora of the Kigluaik Mountains and the Seward Peninsula, is to get Graphite One to do plant surveys in the mine site, but also to encourage more plant surveys of the entire mountain range, so that we can better understand what increased protections are warranted,” Freeman said. “If you ask an Alaskan botanist where the most remarkable place for plant foods in the state, hands down, they’ll say, the Seward Peninsula. It’s a real hotspot of plant biodiversity across the Arctic globally.”
Freeman said the best available science “shows that this plant is severely under threat of extinction in a really quite terrifying timeline, looking at some of the most recent modeling.” The petition cites recent research that showed many plant species in the Arctic tundra will face a “no-where-to-go” scenario as the climate warms, losing all their environmentally suitable habitat.
“The threat of climate change will only continue to be amplified, leaving rare, range-limited Arctic endemics like the Alaskan glacier buttercup highly vulnerable to extinction as the planet rapidly warms,” the petition says.
After receiving such a petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must decide within 90 days whether there is “substantial information” to warrant a listing. If there is, a status review will be conducted, which could result in a proposal for a listing within a year of the petition being filed. However, this process could be deferred if a listing is not considered a high priority.

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