RENO, Nev.— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition today with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeking Endangered Species Act protection for the critically imperiled Railroad Valley toad, which is threatened by a proposed lithium production project and oil drilling.
This recently identified species is found at just one spring-fed wetland complex in Railroad Valley, Nevada. It has an estimated distribution of only 445 acres and is isolated from other toads by miles of arid desert. Like many of Nevada's groundwater-dependent species, this unique toad relies on consistent spring flow for survival.
The Railroad Valley toad’s sole habitat is imminently threatened by a proposed lithium production project that would be located less than 10 miles away. The project is seeking to extract billions of gallons of groundwater, or brine, per year, threatening the springs the toad depends on. Post-processed brine would also be reinjected underground, potentially degrading the water quality of the wetland complex.
“While we strongly support the transition to renewable energy and recognize that lithium is an important component, it can’t come at the expense of these rare toads’ survival,” said Krista Kemppinen, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Center. “We’re in a biodiversity crisis, and amphibians are more imperiled than any other group of vertebrates. Lithium production needs to minimize threats to species and water consumption and maximize recycling.”
In addition to lithium production, oil and gas development in the valley also threatens the Railroad Valley toad. There are dozens of active oil wells in Railroad Valley, and the Bureau of Land Management has leased out much of the public land in the valley, including land around the toad’s habitat, to oil companies.
The Railroad Valley toad has a brown and gray back with prominent warts and a black and white belly. It has evolved to survive in a rare spring-fed habitat in a geothermally active area. Described as a distinct species in 2020, it is one of the smallest members of the Anaxyrus boreas species group.
“The Railroad Valley toad has been a survivor for millennia at its aquatic desert home,” said Kemppinen. “Without protection under the Endangered Species Act, this unique toad will disappear forever.”