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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Texas Given the Reins to Help Threatened Lizard

(CN) - Federal regulators that would not list the dunes sagebrush lizard as endangered, citing state conservation efforts in Texas, defeated a court challenge.

"The Texas plan may not be foolproof, but neither is every regulatory regime," Judge Judith Rogers wrote Tuesday for a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit.

A spiny reptile found in southeastern New Mexico and western Texas, the dunes sagebrush lizard dwells in dynamic dune systems created by shinnery oak trees and their surrounding roots and stems.

That habitat is on a collision course with the oil and gas-drilling industry, however, which uses herbicide treatments that kill the oaks.

Though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had planned to list the rare lizard as an endangered species in 2010, it scrubbed the proposal two years later after concluding that efforts by Texas to protect the lizard would suffice.

The withdrawn federal plan prompted a lawsuit by Defenders of Wildlife and Center for Biological Diversity, but they failed to get the case in Washington past summary judgment.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit affirmed Tuesday, finding their challenge "unpersuasive."

"The evaluation of the adequacy of the Texas plan involves the service's judgment based on its expertise and experience," the 29-page opinion states. "Appellants have failed to demonstrate that the service was arbitrary and capricious in exercising that judgment to rely on the Texas plan."

One focus of the appeal contended that the agreements Texas reached are "too speculative to ensure the conservation of the species," but Rogers said the groups waived this challenge because they already agreed to let regulators consider voluntary conservation agreements in making their determination.

The ruling notes that Texas' plan "is to guide development away from lizard habitat and permit development in lizard habitat only when there is no feasible alternative."

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