Tiny toad at center of a legal battle declared endangered species

Tiny toad at center of a legal battle declared endangered species

RENO (Nev.) After U.S. wildlife officials temporarily placed it on an emergency basis last spring, the toad was officially declared endangered.

” This ruling makes final the listing for the Dixie Valley Toad,” 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 and disease, as well as predation by bullfrogs. April’s temporary listing was only the second time that the agency had taken such an emergency action in 20years.

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 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 regarding the original plan to build two power stations capable of producing 60MW electricity is currently being heard by Robert Jones, U.S. District Judge 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..

Ormat announced that it had temporarily suspended all 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.

Read More