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Environmentalists worried over Nevada rare toad’s habitat

LAS VEGAS — Environmentalists are warning that a planned geothermal energy plant in Northern Nevada could threaten the habitat of a rare toad.

The future of a big-eyed, freckled creature known as the Dixie Valley toad is at the center of an expected fight as environmentalists seek federal protection for the amphibian, the Las Vegas Sun reports.

The toad, whose existence was unknown until a couple of years ago, lives around the thermal springs on the western edge of the Dixie Valley Playa, east of Reno. It’s one of 274 imperiled species — 25 of them in Nevada — at the center of legal action initiated last month under the Endangered Species Act.

Ormat Technologies, the company that plans to build the geothermal energy plant, has proposed mitigation strategies to protect the toad’s habitat.

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 University of Nevada, Reno biologists determined it was a unique species, said Patrick Donnelly, the Center for Biological Diversity’s state director.

The Dixie Valley toad’s habitat is restricted to fewer than 2.3 square miles (6 square kilometers), which makes it particularly vulnerable, according to the center.

The group is also seeking protection for the Penasco least chipmunk in New Mexico and the Great Basin silverspot butterfly of Arizona, Colorado and Utah.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said 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.