Federal agency extends emergency protections to rare Nevada toad

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Nearly five years after its discovery, the Dixie Valley toad has been granted emergency federal protection. On Monday, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced an emergency listing of the Dixie Valley toad, a rare amphibian discovered in 2017, as an endangered species.

The lesser black-eyed speckled toad depends on a 760-acre groundwater-dependent habitat that includes wetlands and hot springs at Dixie Meadows, located in Churchill County near Fallon.

The toad is at the center of a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s decision to approve a geothermal project. Ormat Technologies, a Reno-based company, is developing the project on public land. Environmentalists, led by the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe, raised concerns about how the project would affect spring-fed wetlands.

In taking action on Monday, federal wildlife managers responsible for overseeing the Endangered Species Act recognized the threat that geothermal development could pose, in addition to other dangers. The Fish and Wildlife Service said in a news release Monday that it has “determined that geothermal development poses a significant risk to the well-being of the Dixie Valley Toad and that emergency listing is necessary. to avoid losses that may lead to its extinction”.

“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.

Patrick Donnelly, state director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said “the decision comes just in time for the toads of Dixie Valley, who are staring down the barrel of extinction.”

The emergency listing will extend immediate federal protections to the species for 240 days, as the agency drafts and finalizes a permanent rule over the next year. The agency did not specify what action it plans to take, but the agency has posted an FAQ outlining the extent of its authority under an emergency list. In general, the Endangered Species Act – and the protections that come with it – prevent harming species or habitat at risk without a permit.

Last year, the US Bureau of Land Management approved Ormat’s Dixie Meadows project, a move that prompted legal challenges from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe. Earlier this year, a federal district court judge granted an injunction temporarily halting construction, but an appeals court ultimately overturned that decision. The reversal allowed Ormat to begin building the geothermal project as the lawsuit progressed.

Under the listing, federal land managers must now consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on immediate steps to take to comply with the Endangered Species Act.

Ormat’s approved geothermal project could include up to two 30 megawatt power plants and 18 geothermal wells. Geothermal energy is considered an alternative to fossil fuels that uses the heat trapped under the Earth to power turbines. But tapping into this energy source requires drilling wells into aquifers, an action that can affect plants, animals and springs that rely on groundwater.

Ormat argued, in court and in public, that he had developed a monitoring and mitigation plan to prevent hydrological impacts that could alter the toad’s habitat. Paul Thomsen, vice president of business development for Ormat, said The Nevada Current that the society believes this plan “adequately protects the Dixie Valley Toad, regardless of its legal status.”

In an email, Thomsen said construction has not stopped and Ormat believes “any request to stop construction based on the designation is unwarranted and without legal basis.”

Dixie Valley Toad. (Matt Maples/Nevada Wildlife Department)

Sisolak signs Memorandum of Understanding on electric trucks: On Thursday last week, Gov. Steve Sisolak announced a multistate agreement with 16 other states to encourage the market for medium and heavy-duty electric trucks. The memorandum of understanding, in line with national climate goals, aims for 30% of truck sales to be zero emissions by 2030 and reach 100% by 2050. Sisolak’s announcement was applauded by a a number of environmental advocacy groups, including Western Resource Advocates, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, and the Nevada Conservation League.

The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony filed a motion asking a federal court sanction the Bureau of Land Management for failing to comply with discovery orders in a case challenging the federal agency’s decision to approve the Thacker Pass lithium mine, north of Winnemucca.

Last week, I wrote about the Biden administration’s decision to use the Defense Production Act, a Cold War-era law, to encourage the mining of minerals (lithium, copper, graphite) needed for batteries and large-scale electric vehicles. E&E News’ Jael Holzman wrote more about what this means for federal funding in the industry. E&E News also watched some of the tensions.

“A long-term effort to revive four species of fish that once thrived in the Colorado River is about to lose millions of dollars funding due to declining hydroelectric generation in the Colorado River Basin,” The Colorado Sunreported Chris Outcalt earlier this week.

Future : Nevada Department of Wildlife Director Tony Wasley speaks today at an event with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announcing a wildlife corridor strategy.

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