Biden admin. names Nevada toad endangered, hampering construction of geothermal plant

Nevada’s Dixie Valley toad has been declared an endangered species. 

Last spring, wildlife officials had temporarily listed the speckled, black-eyed toad on a rarely used emergency basis. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Friday that the ruling makes the final listing. 

The amphibian is at risk of extinction mainly due to the approval and commencement of geothermal development, but other threats include groundwater pumping, agriculture, climate change, chytrid fungus, disease and predation from invasive bullfrogs.

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In April, the temporary listing marked the second time in two decades that the agency had taken such action. 

“Due to the imminent development of a geothermal project in Dixie Meadows, Nevada, and the potential resulting effects to the geothermal springs relied upon by the Dixie Valley toad, there is a significant risk to the well-being of the species,” the agency said then. We find that emergency listing is necessary in order to provide the protective measures afforded by the Act to the Dixie Valley toad.”

FILE – A Dixie Valley toad sits atop grass in Dixie Valley, Nev., on April 6, 2009. 
(Matt Maples/Nevada Department of Wildlife via AP, File)

Environmentalists who filed a lawsuit in January to block construction of the geothermal plant east of Reno – the only place the toad is known to exist on Earth – applauded the Biden administration. 

“We’re pleased that the Biden administration is taking this essential step to prevent the extinction of an irreplaceable piece of Nevada’s special biodiversity,” Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin regional director for the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Associated Press. 

A Dixie Valley toad is seen around the hot spring-fed wetland in the Dixie Valley in Fallon, Nev., Wednesday, May 4, 2022. 

A Dixie Valley toad is seen around the hot spring-fed wetland in the Dixie Valley in Fallon, Nev., Wednesday, May 4, 2022. 
((Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via AP))

The Fish and Wildlife Service cited some of their concerns – including that pumping hot water from beneath the surface to generate carbon-free power would adversely impact levels and temperatures of surface water critical to the toad’s survival and sacred to the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe. 

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In Dec. 1 tweets reacting to the news, Donnelly noted the protections had been finalized “extraordinarily fast,” which he said was indicative of how imminently the toad faces extinction if Ormat Technology “is able to move forward with their dastardly plans.”

Ormat Technology, which had planned to build the plant, said that the decision was “not unexpected” and that it had been working with the agency and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to modify the project to increase mitigation for the toad and reduce any threat to its survival.

A lawsuit over the initial plan to build two power plants is currently before U.S. District Judge Robert Jones and, in August, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant a temporary injunction blocking construction of the plant the bureau had approved in Dec. 2021. 

In October, the bureau and Ormat asked for the case to be put on hold while it submitted a new plan to construct just one plant, producing less power.

A Dixie Valley toad is seen around the hot spring-fed wetland in the Dixie Valley in Fallon, Nevada, May 4, 2022.

A Dixie Valley toad is seen around the hot spring-fed wetland in the Dixie Valley in Fallon, Nevada, May 4, 2022.
(Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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Ormat Vice President Paul Thomsen said in an email to The Associated Press that his company disagrees with the “characterization of the potential impacts” of its project as a basis for the endangered listing decision and that the listing does not alter ongoing steps to minimize and mitigate any of those impacts.

“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 Associated Press contributed to this report.

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