By now, we've all heard of the Sand Dune lizard. It's a species that some would like to see added to the Endangered Species List. But others argue the cost would be way too high, especially for the oil and gas industry. Before we dive into the debate, Big 2 headed to the Monahans Sandhills State Park to learn more about the four-legged reptile that's caught in the middle.
"This particular species of lizard is found only in the sand dune region of southeastern New Mexico and West Texas," says Michael Nickell, Sibley Nature Center
Although it's name suggests otherwise, the lizards habitat is limited to a certain type of sand dune. Nickell says, "the sand dunes that are supported by the Shinnery Oak and blue stem grasses and yucca. So this is the type of habitat that you'll find them in. "
And finding one is exactly what we tried to do. After over an hour and a half of searching in the hot midday sun, we found plenty of lizard tracks, but the actual lizard wasn't as easy to find. As it turns out, it was a case of bad timing. "It's a day time lizard but if it gets too hot during the day time, it's going to be underneath the sand dune itself. It can burrow very quickly," says Nickell.
Since the lizard's habitat includes specific types of vegetation, the areas suitable for it's survival are extremely limited. Unfortunately, those same areas are also prime locations for oil companies to drill. That's where we run into a problem raising questions like, "Do you believe there's enough science to prove that this particular species of lizard is endangered?" We asked Nickell, and he responded by saying, "I can't say. Can you ever do enough science? I'm sure that more students are important to do, but as far as enough, I really can't say. "
And although Nickell says he isn't taking sides, and he hopes that both parties can come to a peaceful agreement, he explains why some say the lizard is worth fighting for. "It might not be of economic importance. It might not be of medicinal importance. But just because we might not always know the answers, it's out there for a reason. Otherwise, it wouldn't have come to be."
But is it important enough to risk what's at stake for the oil and gas industry? Getting that answer, wasn't as easy. "You'd have to ask the people on side or the other. At Sibley Nature Center, we're just about education of the species in general. We don't take sides. I really can't go there. I apologize."
And so, that's one of the answers that Big 2 will be looking to find over the next two weeks. Join Mycah Glover the first two Thursdays in July for parts 2 and 3 of her special series, "The Lizard Effect." She'll hear from to those fighting put it on the list and others fighting to keep it off. She'll speak with with state and U.S. leaders, oil industry leaders, educators, evironmentalists and more to find out exactly what's at risk and why some say the stakes are high for more than just the oil industry.