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Environmentalists: Lawsuit will help protect rare toad

RAILROAD VALLEY — The Center for Biological Diversity says it will sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect the critically imperiled Railroad Valley toad under the Endangered Species Act.

This rare toad is found at just one spring-fed wetland complex in Nye County’s Railroad Valley on about 445 acres and is isolated from other toads by miles of arid desert.

Oil and gas extraction and a proposed lithium project threaten the springs the toads depend on, according to scientists at the center.

“Railroad Valley toads have survived for millennia in a harsh environment, but unless there’s adequate spring flow they won’t make it,” said Krista Kemppinen, a senior scientist at the center. “Without federal protections their future is bleak. These small amphibians don’t have time for further delays.”

The center petitioned the Wildlife Service in 2022 to protect the toads under the Endangered Species Act. The service had until April 2023 to determine whether protection was warranted.

The lawsuit stems from the agency’s failure to make that decision by the legally required deadline, according to officials at the center.

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 toads’ habitat — to oil companies. Other threats to the toads include livestock grazing, climate change and mining.

Described as a distinct species in 2020, the toad is one of the smallest members of the Anaxyrus boreas species group. It has a brown and gray back with prominent warts and a black and white belly.

“The Railroad Valley toads have evolved to survive in the desert where surface water is scarce,” said Kemppinen. “Carefully managing groundwater usage is critical to avoid extinction of this irreplaceable species.”

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