This Rare Toad and Its Hot Oasis Are Endangered

Conservatists say a nearby geothermal energy project leaves the toads 'staring down the barrel of extinction'
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 10, 2022 3:15 PM CDT
This Rare Toad and Its Hot Oasis Are Endangered
A rare Dixie Valley toad sits in grass in June 2017 in the Dixie Meadows in Churchill County, Nev.   (Patrick Donnelly/Center for Biological Diversity via AP,File)

To appreciate this issue, it helps to put Dixie Valley, Nevada, into geographical perspective: the area encompasses about one square mile amid 200,000 square miles of the arid Great Basin. The place is only remarkable because of its hot springs, which feed a patch of sweltering wetlands and the only place on earth where Dixie Valley toads exist. The springs are also the site of a new geothermal project by Reno-based Ormat Technologies, but construction might be halted due to a “rare emergency move” by US Fish and Wildlife on April 4, which declared that the toad "will be listed as endangered [and] provided immediate federal protections for 240 days.”

Per the New York Times, Dixie Valley is already the subject in a lawsuit by the local Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe—for whom the springs are sacred—and conservationists with the Center for Biological Diversity. As center director Patrick Donnelly explains, “In the Great Basin, hot springs and thermal water features are oases of biodiversity, providing water in the driest place in North America and thermal refuge in the coldest desert in North America.” If the geothermal project moves forward, conservationists say, the toads are “staring down the barrel of extinction.”

Also per the Times, geothermal plants “have a minimal carbon footprint, release little to no greenhouse gas emissions, and are considered a renewable resource.” According to the EIA, the US has vast, largely untapped geothermal resources, mostly in the West; geothermal now accounts for just 2% of US energy production, a small but important sliver in a broader shift toward renewables. Ormat Technologies says it cares and “will coordinate with relevant agencies to ensure that any additional required process is met while we continue our work.” Fallon tribal chairwoman Cathy Tuni says, “Our Creator made the springs with the toad, as a connected whole.” (More endangered species stories.)

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