Nevada toad in geothermal fight is endangered

A Dixie Valley toad is seen near the hot spring-fed wetland in the Dixie Valley in Fallon, Nevada on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. In a highly unusual move in a lawsuit involving a Nevada geothermal power plant and an endangered toad, the project’s developer is now asking a judge to allow it to increase the original plan, which US land administrators approved last November, by 80% to shorten. Credit: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via AP

A tiny Nevada toad at the center of a lawsuit over a geothermal project has been officially declared an endangered species after US wildlife officials temporarily listed it on a rarely used emergency basis last spring.

“This decision makes the listing of the Dixie Valley toad final,” the US Fish and Wildlife Service said in a formal rule published in the Federal Register on Friday.

The spectacled, quarter-sized amphibian “is currently critically endangered throughout its range, primarily due to permitting and the start of geothermal development,” the service said.

Other threats to the toad include groundwater pumping, agriculture, climate change, disease, and bullfrog predation.

The temporary listing in April was only the second time in 20 years that the agency had taken such emergency measures.

Environmentalists, who first applied for listing in 2017, filed a lawsuit in January to block construction of the geothermal power plant on the edge of the wetlands where the toad lives about 100 miles east of Reno — the only known place where it exists on earth.

“We are pleased that the Biden administration is taking this essential step to prevent the extinction of an irreplaceable part of Nevada’s distinctive biodiversity,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin regional director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

Nevada toad in geothermal fight is endangered

A Dixie Valley toad sits on grass April 6, 2009 in Dixie Valley, Nevada. The tiny Nevada toad, which was at the center of a lawsuit over a geothermal project, was officially declared an endangered species after US wildlife officials temporarily listed it on the list at a rarely used emergency base in spring 2022. The spectacled, quarter-sized amphibian ” is currently critically endangered throughout its range, primarily due to permitting and the start of geothermal development,” the service said. Other threats to the toad include groundwater pumping, agriculture, climate change, disease, and bullfrog predation. Credit: Matt Maples/Nevada Department of Wildlife via AP, file

The center and a tribe opposed to the project say pumping hot water from underground to generate carbon-free electricity would affect surface water levels and temperatures, which are critical to the toad’s survival and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone -Tribe are sacred.

The Fish and Wildlife Service cited these concerns in the final listing rule.

“The best available information suggests that a full reduction in headwater flow and a significant reduction in water temperature are plausible outcomes of the geothermal project, and these conditions could result in the species becoming extinct,” the agency said.

“Because the species is only found in one source system and has not experienced habitat changes at the projected magnitude or rate, it may have little potential to adapt to a rapidly changing environment,” it said. “We feel that the endangered species status is not appropriate because the threat of extinction is imminent.”

Officials at Reno-based developer Ormat Technology said the service’s decision was “not unexpected” given the April emergency list. In recent months, the company has been working with the agency and the US Bureau of Land Management to modify the project to improve control of the toad and reduce any threat to its survival.

The lawsuit over the original plan to build two 60 MW power plants is currently being heard by US District Judge Robert Jones in Reno. It has already made a trip to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which in August refused to grant an injunction blocking construction of the power plant, which the bureau approved in December 2021.

But just hours after that verdict, Ormat announced that it had agreed to temporarily halt all work on the project until next year. Then, in late October, the FBI and Ormat asked the judge to stay the case while Ormat presented a new plan to build just one geothermal plant, at least for now, that would generate just 12MW of electricity.

Nevada toad in geothermal fight is endangered

A Dixie Valley toad is seen around the hot spring-fed wetland in the Dixie Valley in Fallon, Nevada, Wednesday, May 4, 2022. The tiny Nevada toad at the center of a lawsuit over a geothermal project was officially declared a threatened species after U.S. wildlife officials temporarily listed it on a rarely used emergency base in the spring of 2022. Source: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via AP, File

Ormat Vice President Paul Thomsen said in an email to The Associated Press on Thursday that the company disagreed with the wildlife service’s “characterization of the potential impact” of its project as the basis for the listing decision. He said this does not change the ongoing coordination and consultation already underway to minimize and mitigate those impacts “regardless of their status under the Endangered Species Act”.

“Following the emergency listing decision, BLM began consulting the FWS, and Ormat has applied for approval of a smaller project that would provide additional assurances that the species would not be endangered by geothermal development,” he said.

“As a zero-emission renewable energy facility, the project will advance the Biden administration’s clean energy initiatives and support the fight against climate change,” Thomsen said.

Donnelly agreed that renewable energy is “essential to addressing the climate emergency.”

“But it must not come at the expense of extinction,” he said.

The last time endangered species conservation was first initiated on an emergency basis 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.

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Citation: Nevada Toad in Geothermal Power Fight goes Endangered Status (2022, December 3), retrieved December 3, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-12-nevada-toad-geothermal-power-endangered.html

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