(CN) — The imperiled Dixie Valley toad was given a lifeline by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday as it finalized Endangered Species Act protections for the amphibian.
“The Dixie Valley toad is a very rare amphibian that lives in one place and one place only on earth in a place called Dixie Meadows, which is a hot spring-fed wetland in Churchill County, Nevada,” said Patrick Donnelly, Great Basin director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“I’m thrilled, to tell you the truth. I’ve wrapped up a whole lot of my life and time in the past five years in the protection of this little creature. I’m really thrilled with today’s outcome,” said Donnelly. “We have to fight to ensure these protections are applied.”
This unique species of toad faces extinction because of a geothermal energy project being developed directly adjacent to its sole habitat. Geothermal energy production has been extensively documented to dry up nearby hot springs. If the Dixie Valley toad’s hot springs dry up, the species will go extinct, said Donnelly.
The Bureau of Land Management approved the project in 2021, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit challenging that approval. The lawsuit is still working its way through the courts. In August, construction of the geothermal project in central Nevada was halted through an agreement between the Center for Biological Diversity and project developer Ormat Technologies. Under the agreement, Ormat agreed to consider existential risks to the Dixie Valley toad.
“There’s been a lot of legal back and forth. We sued the Fish and Wildlife Service over its failure to produce a timely response. We also sued the Bureau of Land Management over their approving of the project,” said Donnelly. “The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe is our co-plaintiff. The Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe holds the Dixie Meadows as sacred and a cultural site.”
“This issue is really important not just for the toad but for the question on how we’re going to develop renewable energy. We need to develop renewable energy to get off fossil fuels and beat climate change, but we can’t do it if it’s going to come at the cost of extinction,” said Donnelly.
“I think today the Biden administration took a powerful stance in saying ‘renewable energy is really important, but protecting biodiversity is also important,’” said Donnelly.
Geothermal energy involves pumping and recirculating billions of gallons of groundwater, which can alter subsurface hydrology and change the flow, temperature and geochemistry of hot spring discharge. An independent scientific panel convened by the Fish and Wildlife Service determined that Ormat’s project had a high likelihood of driving the Dixie Valley toad extinct.
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