Nevada toad declared endangered at geothermal power plant site

RENO, Nev. – In a rare emergency measure, the US government temporarily declared a northern Nevada toad endangered on Monday, saying a geothermal power plant being developed could lead to its extinction.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that it is officially proposing a rule to list the Dixie Valley toad as an endangered species subject to 60 days of public comment as part of the normal rulemaking process. of the Endangered Species Act.

But he said the emergency listing takes effect immediately and will continue for eight months, while more permanent protections are being considered for the toad at the only known location in the world.

This is only the second time in 20 years that the service has listed an endangered species on an emergency basis.

“Protecting small-population species like this ensures the continuity of biodiversity needed to maintain climate-resilient landscapes in one of the driest states in the country,” the agency said.

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It was not immediately clear how the toad 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 before the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.

The dispute is part of a growing number of disputes over wildlife protection and tribal rights to federal lands the Biden administration faces as it pursues its climate change agenda by replacing fossil fuels. by renewable energies.

Officials from Reno-based Ormat Technologies Inc., which broke ground on the power plant last month, said they don’t believe a listing would impact the project, as the company has spent six years develop a mitigation plan to offset any potential environmental impact.

“Ormat has long recognized the importance of conserving the Dixie Valley Toad, regardless of its legal status,” Ormat Vice President Paul Thomsen said in an email Monday. Associated Press.

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“Ormat will coordinate with the relevant agencies to ensure 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 the wetlands around the hot springs next to the construction site. Besides geothermal development, other major threats to one of the smallest western U.S. toads include disease, predation by non-native frog species, pumping of groundwater for human use, and agriculture and climate change, the service said.

The agency agreed last month to expedite a review of a federal list 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 says the site is sacred to its people who have lived there for thousands of years.

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The Center for Biological Diversity first applied for the toad’s listing in 2017.

Monday’s decision “comes just in time for the toads of Dixie Valley, who are staring down the barrel of extinction,” said Patrick Donnelly, director of the Great Basin Center.

“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 sent to The Associated Press.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the tribe won a federal court order in Reno in January temporarily blocking construction of the Ormat project on U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands east of Fallon.

But the U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals suspended that order on Feb. 4 pending a full review of Ormat’s appeal. The San Francisco Court of Appeals plans to hear appeal arguments in June.

The last time a species was declared to be in emergency danger was in 2011, when the Obama administration took action against the Miami blue butterfly in South Florida. Prior to this, an emergency listing was granted for the California tiger salamander during the Bush administration in 2002.

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Other species listed as urgently threatened over the years include California bighorn sheep in the Sierra Nevada in 1999, Steller sea lions in 1990, and the Sacramento River winter migration of Chinook salmon and Mojave Desert Turtle, both in 1989.

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