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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Oil Drilling Endangers Lizard

WASHINGTON (CN) - The dunes sagebrush lizard is endangered across its range by oil and gas drilling in Texas and New Mexico, and should be protected under the Endangered Species Act, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

However, the proposed listing does not include a designation for critical habitat even though the agency has estimated that since 1982 the suitable habitat range of the species has declined by 40 percent.

Failure to designate critical habitat means that restrictions on oil and gas activities and herbicide use will be limited to lands administered by the federal government.

Since 1982, the agency has taken various positions on the dunes sagebrush lizard, first listing it, under the classifications in use at that time, as a Category 2 species meaning that a proposed listing as threatened or endangered might be appropriate but for which insufficient data existed to proceed.

In 1985 the lizard was moved down the rankings, as the agency believed populations of the lizard were more widespread than previously thought. By 1996 the dune sagebrush lizard was removed from the Candidate Species List of species for which protection was warranted but precluded by budget restrictions or higher priority listings.

In 2001, the lizard was back on the Candidate Species List with the second highest listing priority number, where it has remained for nine years even though a 12 month review of the species was completed in 2004, which once again found that listing was warranted but precluded.

The small light brown lizard lives in a very restricted range in west Texas and southeastern New Mexico and the fragmentation and loss of habitat due to oil and gas development and the use of herbicides has led to the depletion of the shinnery oak, a low growing shrub the lizard uses for food and protection.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking for public input on the proposed listing and is specifically interested in information that would help the agency propose critical habitat.

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