Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe announced today that the federal government has withdrawn its proposed listing rule for the dunes sagebrush lizard. The Service proposed to list the species as "endangered" in 2010, but after eighteen months of study, determined not to protect the species under the Endangered Species Act.
"Biologically, there is no species more deserving of listing than the dunes sagebrush lizard," said Mark Salvo, Wildlife Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. "We hope the species can persist without federal protection."
The dunes sagebrush lizard, also known as the sand dune lizard, occurs in sand dunes in shinnery oak grasslands in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. The species has one of the smallest ranges of any lizard in North America and is extremely sensitive to disturbance, including oil and gas development. Scientists warned as early as 1997 that the lizard faced extinction without greater protections.
The dunes sagebrush lizard listing decision has been the subject of much controversy, most of it manufactured by Representative Steve Pearce (R-NM-2nd) and oil and gas industry spokesmen. They asserted that listing the dunes sagebrush lizard would "shut down" oil and gas development in the Permian Basin and "devastate" economies in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. In fact, the lizard occupies a tiny patch of habitat in the basin and oil and gas drilling would have been unaffected by conservation actions in more than 99 percent of the region if the lizard was listed.
"We hope the Secretary and the Fish and Wildlife Service weren't badgered into withdrawing the listing proposal by Representative Pearce and the oil and gas industry, who have declared a jihad against a 3-inch lizard," said Salvo.