Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
January 24, 2024
On Wednesday, federal wildlife managers announced that three rare species found in Nevada may warrant federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.
Following a three-month review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, government officials say they’ve found substantial evidence that a flower, a toad, and a rabbit who call Nevada home may be eligible for listing.
Those species are the Railroad Valley toad — one of the smallest western toad species, the white-margined penstemon — a rare perennial plant restricted to the Mojave Desert, and the pygmy rabbit — a small rabbit found in the Great Basin.
Based on the review, federal wildlife officials will conduct a one-year status review to either approve or deny listing proposals for the three species.
Isolated from other toads by miles of arid desert, the Railroad Valley toad is confined to a single spring-fed wetland habitat across 445 acres of land in Nye County.
Under their review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found there were credible threats to the rare toads’ existence that warranted further analysis, including oil and gas extraction in Railroad Valley, and proposals for lithium extraction.
Federal land managers also concluded that protections for the white-margined penstemon — a small flower that grows on sandy washes and stabilized dunes — may be necessary due to habitat loss from land development, climate change, and the degradation of habitat due to off-highway vehicle use.
The rare wildflower only grows in four counties across the Mojave Desert: Clark and Nye counties in Nevada, San Bernardino County in California, and Mohave County in Arizona.
Both the white-margined penstemon and the Railroad Valley toad were considered for federal protections after the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the federal government to list the species under the Endangered Species Act.
Conservationists say the rare wildflower’s survival is threatened by urban expansion under the proposed Clark County lands bill and the advancement of the proposed Southern Nevada Supplemental Airport. The Nye County population of the flower in the Amargosa Desert is also threatened by transmission line construction and fast growing solar energy development, said Patrick Donnelly, the Great Basin director at the Center.
“The Bureau of Land Management and Nevada politicians are letting all manner of industries run roughshod over our public lands, putting the Silver State’s remarkable biodiversity in jeopardy,”Donnelly said. “The Endangered Species Act is the most successful conservation law in the world at preventing extinction, and it’s our best chance to save the white-margined penstemon and the Railroad Valley toad.”
Federal wildlife officials said they would also further evaluate whether the pygmy rabbit warranted federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.
After being petitioned by several conservation groups — including the Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity, WildEarth Guardians, and the Defenders of Wildlife — wildlife managers said a compound of wildfire, cheatgrass, and climate change may warrant further protections for the rabbit.
The small Great Basin rabbit lives in sagebrush habitat across central Nevada, eastern California, southwestern Utah, southern Idaho, southwestern Montana, southeastern Oregon, and southern Washington.
The pygmy rabbit population in Washington’s Columbia Basin has been listed as endangered since 2003, but following their review the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that listing the pygmy rabbit range wide, as a threatened species or an endangered species, may be warranted.
“I’m relieved that these vulnerable species are moving one step closer to getting the life-saving protections they need,” said Donnelly. “As climate change rages and habitat destruction devastates public lands, Nevada is on the front lines of the extinction crisis. If we don’t act to save the state’s rare plants and animals, they’ll disappear forever.”
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