Protection sought for a butterfly at a geothermal project site near Denio

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Bleached sandhill skipper in the meadows of Baltazor Hot Spring in Humboldt County on September 13, 2021. Patrick Donnelly/Center for Biological Diversity

RENO — 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 is planning near the Oregon line.
The Center for Biological Diversity is now asking the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the bleached skipper under the Endangered Species Act in the only place where it is known to exist.
It says the project the Bureau of Land Management approved last year in Humboldt County could ultimately lead to the extinction of the 2-inch-long butterfly with gold-orange wings.
“This beautiful little butterfly has evolved over millennia to thrive in this specific place, and no one should have the right to just wipe it off the face of the Earth,” said Jess Tyler, a scientist at the center who co -wrote the petition.
The USFWS has 90 days to decide if there is enough evidence to conduct a one-year review to determine if protection is warranted, so any formal listing is likely to take years.
But the petition signals the potential for another legal fight all too familiar to Ormat Nevada, which wants to draw hot water from underground to generate carbon-free energy. The Biden administration has made a key part of its efforts to address climate change with a change. from fossil fuels to renewable sources. Opposition to these efforts in Nevada has come from conservationists, tribes and others who otherwise generally support a greener energy supply.
“At a time when climate change is arguably one of the greatest threats to the planet, it is disappointing that the Center for Biological Diversity, a group with a mission to protect the environment, is trying to stop the development of clean and renewable energy sources. said Ormat Vice President Paul Thomsen in an email to The Associated Press.
The center and a Nevada tribe have been battling the Reno-based company in federal court since December over its other power plant, which is slated to go into service Dec. 31 in Churchill County’s Dixie Meadows.
The USFWS declared the quarter-sized Dixie Valley toad in temporary emergency danger in April.
Ormat agreed in a joint court stipulation on August 1 to suspend construction until at least September and possibly until the end of the year to consult with the government to ensure compliance with the law.
The butterfly’s listing request, filed Aug. 8, comes 10 years after the service rejected a similar offer from WildEarth Guardians, citing no imminent threat to the insect’s habitat.
But the center says that situation changed when the office approved Ormat’s project at Baltazor Hot Springs near Denio.
The power plant would be located outside the butterfly habitat, a single alkaline wetland of approximately 1,500 acres created by discharge from the Baltazor hot springs.
But tapping groundwater would likely affect the flows that support the plants that harbor the larvae that hatch from the butterfly’s eggs and provide nectar for the adults, the petition says.
Thomsen said Ormat has a long history of working with the government “to ensure that all habitats and ecosystems, regardless of federal protected status, coexist safely with the renewable energy plants we develop.”
The Bleached Dune Skipper is a skipper subspecies that ranges from Washington to Arizona and Colorado. Its small geographic range and specific habitat make it highly vulnerable to extinction, the petition states.
“Geothermal energy is an important part of our clean energy transition, but it cannot come at the cost of extinction.” said Patrick Donnelly, director of the Grand Bassin center.
The petition says there is no official government count of the butterfly population, but scientific surveys from 2014 to 2019 indicate it is declining, with estimates ranging from fewer than 10,000 to hundreds.
Thomsen said Ormat took his original plan away from the butterfly habitat. He said the plan approved by the BLM after extensive environmental review includes years of monitoring and mitigation plans should any potential damage to the insect occur.
The petition claims that no mitigation would offset the likelihood that the project would alter the hydrology of the spring “with the potential to completely dry up the hot spring.”
“In short, the drying up of the Baltazor hot springs and the grassland they support would be irreversible and would lead to the extinction of the Bleached Dune Skipper.”

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