The oil and gas industry and state officials are applauding the move, which removes, for the moment, a potentially significant obstruction for the West Texas oil boom.
"This is a huge win for the Texas economy," said Comptroller Susan Combs, whose office had coordinated a voluntary conservation plan for the dunes sagebrush lizard in an effort to stave off a federal endangered listing. "It's a huge win for the private property rights, and I think it's a big win for species."
The Texas Oil and Gas Association also voiced approval. "Research continued to reinforce that listing the lizard as an endangered species was unwarranted. So we are pleased that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a decision that is reflective of the science," said Deb Hastings, executive vice president of the association.
Environmentalists, however, expressed frustration. "This is an unfortunate decision," said Mark Salvo, wildlife program director for the environmental group WildEarth Guardians, in an email. "There is no species more deserving of federal protection than the dunes sagebrush lizard. Existing conservation measures, particularly in Texas, are so weak that I fear the species may become extirpated in parts of its remaining range."
A press call with U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on the ruling was scheduled for 12:30 Central time on Wednesday.
In December, the Fish and Wildlife Service delayed a decision on whether to list the lizard as threatened or endangered after Texas industry and officials clamored for additional studies.
Combs said that in the intervening months, studies by universities including Texas A&M and Texas Tech, with funding from groups like The Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, had failed to find a scientific basis to support a listing. She credited U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, with orchestrating a push in Washington for better data. The Fish and Wildlife Service accepted the new studies, Combs said.
"We had always said that there was absolutely no scientific data to support a listing," Combs said.
About 250,000 acres in the Permian Basin -- including 85 percent of the lizard habitat -- will participate in the voluntary conservation program, according to Combs. That could mean taking steps like chopping mesquite or moving roads to aid the lizard. The landowners will not get paid for participation, she said.
Combs also foresees additional controversies over other species that could receive a threatened or endangered listing. "You're going to see, I think, a huge battle in Williamson and Bell Counties over four salamanders," she said. The potential listing of the lesser prairie chicken, which resides in multiple states including Texas, will likely be another flashpoint, she said.
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