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Group Pushes for Emergency Protection for Sand Dune Lizard

April 10, 2008
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Climate + Energy  

Thursday, April 10, 2008
Group Pushes for Emergency Protection for Sand Dune Lizard

Scientists have feared lizard’s extinction for over a decade
Contact: WildEarth Guardians

Santa Fe, NM – WildEarth Guardians filed a formal petition today for emergency listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the sand dune lizard, which has the second most geographically restricted range of any lizard in the U.S. It is found only in southeastern New Mexico and west Texas, and its range overlies the Permian Basin, one of the most active oil and gas fields in the country. Oil and gas development and removal of shinnery oak are considered leading threats to the sand dune lizard.

While the lizard has been a formal candidate for ESA protection since 2001, WildEarth Guardians is urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to emergency list the species, given scientists’ predictions that it may already be too late to prevent the lizard’s extinction. WildEarth Guardians took action based on new information that toxic fumes from oil and gas are being found at excessive levels, escalating use of herbicides by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to control shrubs within the lizard’s range, a failure of state and federal agencies to rein in the treat of oil and gas, and a likely much smaller range in Texas than previously believed.

“Our research shows that the Service has sat on the knowledge that it could be too late to save the lizard for over a decade. The Service needs to act immediately to pull this species back from the brink,” stated Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians.

Studies have shown that applying herbicides (such as tebuthiuron) to shinnery oak in sand dune lizard habitat causes a 70-94% decline in lizard populations. The BLM authorized a plan last year that envisions spraying 1,000,000 acres, including within the sand dune lizard’s range, with an array of herbicides, including tebuthiuron. While the BLM says that it is targeting creosote, mesquite, and other shrubs, shinnery oak will also be affected. Sand dune lizards are seldom found more than six feet away from a shinnery oak plant.

Other research has shown that lizard populations drop 25% when oil and gas well densities exceed 13 wells per square mile, and lizards also experience local declines when there is even 1 well present. WildEarth Guardians found that 25% of the lizard’s range contains 13 or more wells per square mile, and 61% of the lizard’s range contains 1 or more well per square mile. A band of intense oil and gas development threatens to sever northern and southern portions of the lizard’s range in the Mescalero Sands area, the heart of the lizard’s range in New Mexico. Since 2000, the New Mexico State Lands Office has leased more than 1.6 million acres in the state for oil and gas development, and many of the leases are in counties with sand dune lizards. State and private lands make up 50% of the lizard’s range in New Mexico and the majority of the lizard’s range in Texas.

“The Service’s failure to act has resulted in oil and gas development throughout the lizard’s range, despite the known, severe threat it presents to this rare and dwindling species. While the BLM pays lip service to lizard protection, its words and actions aren’t lining up. Worse yet, lizards have no protections on state or private lands,” stated Rosmarino.

In 1997, University of New Mexico researchers wrote that it might be too late to prevent the lizard’s extinction. In periodic candidate assessment forms since the lizard was made a candidate in 2001, the Service has quoted the scientists’ prediction but has continually avoided emergency listing the lizard. The ESA requires the Service to use emergency listing authority to prevent “a significant risk to the well being” of a species. WildEarth Guardians’ petition charges that further delay in listing the sand dune lizard may ensure that the 1997 prediction comes true, and the lizard may cross a threshold over which it can’t be saved from extinction.

The sand dune lizard was one of 70 species that Service Director Dale Hall told Congress in February would be proposed for listing in 2008. The petition chronicles why WildEarth Guardians does not believe Hall will deliver on his promise, citing previous promises by the Service to issue listing proposals and their subsequent refusals to follow through.

“With no domestic listings in nearly two years, despite a backlog of hundreds of candidates, we don’t believe Dale Hall’s promise to list species. He said it to get Congress of his back, but he is actually working hard to fight species protections,” stated Rosmarino.

WildEarth Guardians, which has offices in Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico, protects and restores wildlife, wild rivers and wild places in the American West.

Read the Petition (PDF) (opens in new window)

For more information or to obtain other background documents, please contact Nicole Rosmarino at nrosmarino@wildearthguardians.org or 505-988-9126×1156.