Environmentalists are warning that a planned geothermal energy plant in Northern Nevada could threaten the habitat of a big-eyed, freckled creature known as the Dixie Valley toad.
The toad, whose existence was unknown until a couple years ago, lives around the thermal springs on the western edge of the Dixie Valley Playa, east of Reno. It was previously thought to be an isolated population of its common western toad cousin.
The toad is one of 274 imperiled species — 25 of them in Nevada — at the center of legal action initiated last month under the Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the Department of Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to meet a deadline to determine whether species like the Dixie Valley toad should be federally protected.
The center petitioned to have the toad protected as an endangered species in 2017, after a group of UNR biologists determined it was a unique species, said Patrick Donnelly, the group’s state director.
In 2018, the Fish and Wildlife Service advanced the toad to be considered for protection. “However the service has since delayed giving the toad protections, despite the mounting threat of extinction,” Donnelly said.
The legal notice alleges President Donald Trump’s administration has consistently failed to follow its own guidelines.
“Scientists around the world are sounding the alarm about the extinction crisis, but the Trump administration can’t be bothered to lift a finger for hundreds of species that are in serious trouble,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at center. “Every day protections are delayed is a day that moves these fascinating species closer to extinction.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, however, says it is making strides in reducing the backlog of species awaiting protection decisions, clearing more than 100 cases since 2017.
The center’s legal notice “misrepresents the volume of our outstanding Endangered Species Act actions. A lawsuit will only serve to divert more of our limited resources toward litigation and away from the important work of conserving our nation’s wildlife,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Gavin Shire said.
The Dixie Valley toad’s habitat is restricted to fewer than 1,500 acres, which makes it particularly vulnerable, according to the center.
Michelle Gordon, one of the UNR biologists who discovered the species, said without the spring system, the toad cannot exist.
“These systems are necessary and critical for the toad. It’s already a fight for survival in such a harsh climate,” she said. “The springs are havens for other wildlife as well, like antelope and birds. It’s a little oasis in a fragile ecosystem susceptible to disturbance from human development.”
Ormat Technologies, the company that plans to build the geothermal energy plant, has proposed mitigation strategies to protect the toad’s habitat. But environmentalists are wary of any development near the toad’s habitat.
“We have evidence that (geothermal plants) dry up springs,” Donnelly said. “Geothermal energy needs to be far from” the home of the Dixie Valley toad.