Nevada toad in geothermal power fight gets endangered status
RENO (Nev.) A tiny Nevada toad that was at the heart of a legal dispute over a geothermal energy project has been officially declared endangered. It was temporarily listed by U.S. wildlife officials last spring on an emergency basis. This ruling is final and the Dixie Valley Toad has been listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a formal rule Friday in the Federal Register.
The spectacled, quarter-sized amphibian is “presently at risk of extinction across its range primarily because of the approval and commencement geothermal development,” according to the service. Other threats to the toad are groundwater pumping and agriculture, climate change, diseases, and predation by bullfrogs.
The temporary listing in April marked only the second time in 20 years the agency had taken such emergency action.
Environmentalists who first petitioned for the 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 (160 kilometers) east of Reno — the only place it’s known to exist on earth. We are pleased that the Biden administration has taken this important step to stop the extinction of an irreplaceable part of Nevada’s special biodiversity,” said Patrick Donnelly (Great Basin regional director for Center for Biological Diversity).
The center and a tribe opposing the project claim that hot water being pumped from below the earth’s surface in order to generate carbon-free electricity would adversely impact the temperature and levels of the surface water, which are vital to the survival of the toad and sacred to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe.
These concerns were cited by the Fish and Wildlife Service in the final listing rule.
” The best information suggests that the geothermal project could lead to a significant decrease in spring flow and a reduction in water temperature, which could lead to the species not being able to persist,” the agency stated.
“The species is found in one spring system and has not seen habitat changes of the size or pace predicted, so it may not be able to adapt to a rapidly-changing environment. “We find that threatened species status is not appropriate because the threat of extinction is imminent.”
Officials for the Reno-based developer, Ormat Technology, said the service’s decision was “not unexpected” given the emergency listing in April. The company has been working closely with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the agency to modify the project to increase mitigation and reduce the threat to the toad’s survival.
The lawsuit over the original plan to build two power plants capable of producing 60MW of electricity is currently before U.S. District Judge Robert Jones in Reno. It has already made one trip to U.S. 9th. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant a temporary injunction in August blocking construction of the power station the bureau approved in December 2021..
But Ormat announced that it had agreed to temporarily suspend work on the project, until next year, just hours after the ruling. Then in late October, the bureau and Ormat asked the judge to put the case on hold while Ormat submitted a new plan to build just one geothermal plant, at least for now, that would produce only 12MW of power. Ormat Vice President Paul Thomsen stated in an email to The Associated Press that the company disagrees the wildlife service’s “characterizations of the potential impacts of its project” as a basis of the listing decision. He said it doesn’t change the ongoing coordination and consultation already under way to minimize and mitigate any of those impacts “regardless of its status under the Endangered Species Act.”
“Following the emergency listing decision, BLM began consultation with the FWS, and Ormat has sought approval of a smaller project authorization that would provide additional assurances that the species will not be jeopardized by geothermal development,” he said.
“The project, which is a zero-emissions renewable energy facility, will support the fight against climate changes and further the administration’s clean energy initiatives,” Thomsen stated.
Donnelly agreed renewable energy is “essential to combating the climate emergency.”
“But it can’t come at the cost of extinction,” he said.
The last time endangered species protection was initiated on an urgent basis was in 2011,, when the Obama administration intervened in the case of the Miami blue butterfly. Prior to that, the Bush administration granted an emergency listing for the California tiger saltamander in 2002..
Other endangered species that have been listed on an emergency basis in the past include the California bighorn sheep in California’s Sierra Nevada in 1999, Steller Sea Lions in 1990,, the Sacramento River winter migration run for chinook salmon and Mojave Desert tortoise both in 1989.
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