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Protection sought for rare butterflies at Nevada site

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Conservationists who are already suing to block a geothermal power plant where an endangered toad lives in western Nevada are now seeking U.S. protection for a rare butterfly at another geothermal project the developer plans near the Oregon line. The Center for Biological Diversity is now petitioning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the bleached sandhill skipper under the Endangered Species Act at the only place it’s…

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NEVADA (Associated Press) — RENO For the same reason that environmentalists are suing to stop construction of a geothermal power plant in western Nevada, where a species of endangered toad is known to live, they are also asking the United States government to protect a species of rare butterfly that will be found at a second geothermal project planned by the developer near the Oregon border.

The Center for Biological Diversity has submitted a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requesting that the bleached sandhill skipper be listed as endangered in its sole habitat.

It warns that the 2-inch-long butterfly with golden-orange wings could be lost forever if a project approved by the Bureau of Land Management last year goes forward about 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Reno.

Jess Tyler, a scientist at the center and co-author of the petition, argued that “no one should have the right to just wipe it off the face of the Earth” because the beautiful butterfly had adapted over millennia to thrive only in that location.

Any formal listing is likely years away because the USFWS has 90 days to decide if there is enough evidence to conduct a yearlong review to determine if protection is warranted.

Since last December, the center and a Nevada tribe have been fighting the Reno-based company in federal court over its other power plant set to go live on December 31 in the Dixie Meadows, located about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Reno.

The Dixie Valley toad, about the size of a quarter, was temporarily listed as endangered by the USFWS in April.

To ensure compliance with the act, Ormat and the government entered into a joint court stipulation on August 1 committing to delay construction at least until September and possibly until the end of the year.

The service rejected a similar petition from WildEarth Guardians 10 years ago, citing a lack of imminent threat to the butterfly’s habitat as the primary reason.

The center, however, claims that things have changed since the government agency OK’d Ormat’s project at the Baltazor Hot Springs in the vicinity of Denio.

The butterfly lives in a single alkali wetland of about 1,500 acres (607 hectares), which was formed by Baltazor Hot Springs’ discharge. The power plant would be located outside of this wetland.

However, the petition warns that withdrawing water from the ground could disrupt the natural flow that helps plants host butterfly larva and produce nectar for adult butterflies.

“to ensure that all habitats and ecosystems, regardless of their federally protected status, co-exist safely with the renewable energy plants we develop,” Thomsen said, describing Ormat’s history of working with the government.

The range of the bleached sandhill skipper, a species of skippers, extends from Washington to Arizona and Colorado. According to the petition, the species is in grave danger of going extinct due to its narrow range and specific habitat.

While geothermal power is essential to the transition to clean energy, doing so must not endanger existing species. Great Basin Director Patrick Donnelly said that.

Scientific surveys conducted between 2014 and 2019 indicate the butterfly population is on the decline, with estimates ranging from fewer than 10,000 to hundreds, according to the petition. However, no official government counts of the butterfly population exist.

According to Thomsen, Ormat redesigned itself away from a butterfly haven. He explained that the BLM-approved plan, which underwent extensive environmental review, includes measures to monitor the insect for several years and implement mitigation strategies should any threats to it emerge.

The petition argues that there is no way to prevent the project from changing the hydrology of the spring, despite the fact that this is a likely consequence “danger of causing the hot spring to become completely depleted.

“In sum, it would be impossible to prevent the extinction of the bleached sandhill skipper if Baltazor Hot Springs and the meadow it supports were to dry up.”