As geothermal plant breaks ground, feds set to make a call on habitat protection

As geothermal plant breaks ground, feds set to make a call on habitat protection
Dixie Valley Toad. (Center for Biological Diversity photo)

by Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to decide whether a rare Nevada toad should be listed as an endangered species by April 4.

Tuesday’s announcement comes after the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group, petitioned the USFWS to list the Dixie Valley toad as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center and the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in December over a geothermal project they believe, if constructed, will irreparably harm a nearby desert spring, the Dixie Valley toad’s sole habitat.

Dixie Meadows is also home to hot springs considered sacred to the Nevada-based tribe, who refer to themselves as the Toi-Ticutta, or “Cattail eaters,” because the native edible plant was traditionally harvested for food from marshes such as those in Dixie Meadows.

The coalition successfully obtained a temporary pause on construction of the planned geothermal energy project near the Dixie Meadows Hot Springs, but the ruling was overruled by the 9th Circuit Court of appeals. Construction on the plant started soon after, while the lawsuit makes its way through the judicial process.

“Dixie Valley toads are facing extinction if this plant is built, and federal protections are these animals’ only hope,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center. “Bulldozers are already destroying the toad’s habitat and preparing for a massive groundwater pumping operation that could dry up the only wetland where it lives.”

The recently discovered species of toad is unique to Nevada, and can only be found in remote wetlands fed by thermal desert springs on the western edge of the Dixie Valley Playa in Churchill County. Conservation biologists worry that any change in the temperature of the hot spring could harm the toad and expose it to parasites that cannot otherwise withstand the high temperatures of the spring.

The Center has sought permanent protections for the Dixie Valley toad over the last five years. In 2017 the Center submitted an Endangered Species Act petition to the USFWS to protect the toad, in light of the geothermal development plan. In 2018 the USFWS announced the Dixie Valley toad may qualify for Endangered Species Act protection, however, the review process for the listing was delayed.

“We’re thrilled that the Dixie Valley toad is being put on the fast-track for protection, ”Donnelly said. “The Bureau of Land Management failed to safeguard this rare toad’s habitat, so we’re counting on the Endangered Species Act to stop the destruction. These protections are the toad’s last, best chance to avoid extinction.”

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