In a rare emergency, the US government on Monday temporarily declared a toad in northern Nevada endangered and said a geothermal power plant at the works could lead to its extinction.
The Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it is officially proposing a rule to list the Dixie Valley toad as an endangered species, requiring public comment for 60 days, under the normal rulemaking process of the Endangered Species Act.
But it said the emergency list will take effect immediately and will last for eight months while more permanent safeguards are considered for the toad in the only place known to exist in the world.
It’s only the second time in 20 years that the service has listed a species as vulnerable on an emergency basis.
“Protecting small population species like this ensures the continued biodiversity necessary to maintain climate-resilient landscapes in one of the driest states in the country,” the agency said.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the toad’s listing might affect construction of the power plant about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Reno. Conservationists and tribal members are trying to block the project in a lawsuit currently pending in the US Ninth Circuit Circuit.
The dispute is among a growing number of conflicts over wildlife protection and tribal rights on federal lands that the Biden administration faces as it pursues its agenda to combat climate change by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy.
Officials at Reno-based Ormat Technologies Inc., which broke ground on the plant last month, have said they don’t think a listing would affect the project because the company spent six years developing a mitigation plan, to offset potential environmental impacts.
“Ormat has long recognized the importance of preserving the Dixie Valley toad, regardless of its legal status,” Ormat Vice President Paul Thomsen told The Associated Press in an email on Monday.
“Ormat will coordinate with the relevant authorities to ensure that any additional required processes are met as we continue our work on this important renewable energy project,” he said.
Geothermal energy is generated from hot water deep underground.
The Dixie Valley toad lives in wetlands around hot springs next to the construction site. In addition to geothermal development, other key threats to one of the smallest toads in the western U.S. include disease, predation by non-native frog species, pumping of groundwater for human and agricultural uses, and climate change, the service said.
The agency last month agreed to expedite consideration of a federal listing of the toad as part of a settlement with conservationists and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone tribe, who are suing to block the power plant. The Nevada tribe say the site is sacred to its people, who have lived there for thousands of years.
The Center for Biodiversity first applied for the toad to be included in the list in 2017.
Monday’s decision “comes just in time for the Dixie Valley toads staring at the barrel of extinction,” said Patrick Donnelly, the center’s Great Basin director.
“We’ve been saying for five years that the Dixie Meadows geothermal project could wipe out these tiny toads, and I’m grateful that those concerns have been heard,” he said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press.
The Biodiversity Center and the tribe obtained a federal court order in Reno in January that temporarily blocked construction of Ormat’s project on US Bureau of Land Management land east of Fallon.
But the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that order on February 4 pending a full review of Ormat’s appeal. The San Francisco-based appeals court is considering hearing arguments on appeal in June.
The last time a species was listed as endangered was in 2011 when the Obama administration took action on the Miami Blue Butterfly in South Florida. Previously, the California tiger salamander was placed on an emergency list under the Bush administration in 2002.
Other species that have been listed as vulnerable over the years include the California bighorn sheep in the Sierra Nevada in 1999, Steller sea lions in 1990, and the winter migration of chinook salmon and Mojave desert tortoises on the Sacramento River, both in 1989.
Endangered species list under consideration for rare Nevada toad
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