Dixie Valley toad gets rare emergency protection — High Country News – Know the West

5 years after its discovery, the amphibian is now protected from a geothermal development.


The entire population of Dixie Valley toads live in a thermal spring-fed wetland in a remote Nevada valley.

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In 2017, researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno introduced the public to three formerly unknown species of toad: the Dixie Valley toad, the Railroad Valley toad and the Hot Creek toad. It was an exciting find: The last time a new species of toad was discovered north of Mexico was over half a century ago. The recently discovered toads live one of the driest parts of the country, inhabiting a small oasis in northern Nevada.

The amphibians enjoyed relative isolation for over 650,000 years. Then, Ormat Nevada Inc. proposed building the Dixie Meadows Geothermal Utilization Project. The breeding habitat of the Dixie Valley toad was directly in the crosshairs of the energy company’s machinery — and researchers said the impact of this on the rare amphibians could be “devastating” (Recently discovered toad species already face threats, 7/26/17).

In an unusual emergency move in early April, the U.S. government temporarily declared the Dixie Valley toad endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has the power to “emergency list” species — something it has only done twice before — said Ormat’s geothermal plant “poses a significant risk to the well-being of the Dixie Valley toad.”

While Ormat Nevada Inc. has promised that it will coordinate with agencies to protect the toad and insists that its proposed development will eventually go forward, Fish and Wildlife experts doubt the company’s plans, stating, “The degree of confidence in the ability to mitigate environmental impacts of the project was even lower,” according to reporting from E&E.

The emergency listing is only temporary while the wildlife agency begins the longer process to decide if the toad warrants a full endangered species listing.

Theo Whitcomb is an editorial intern at High Country News. We welcome reader letters. Email him a [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. See our letters to the editor policy.

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