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For Immediate Release, May 4, 2011

Contact:  Jay Lininger, (928) 853-9929     

Report Debunks New Mexico Congressman Pearce's Claims About Protection for Rare Lizard

Analysis Finds Less Than 1 Percent of Oil, Gas Lands Proposed for Leasing in
Southeastern New Mexico Were Affected in 2010, 2011

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— A Center for Biological Diversity report on oil and gas leasing released today debunks claims by Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) that protection for the dunes sagebrush lizard will jeopardize “most of the oil and gas jobs in southeast New Mexico.” The Center’s analysis of U.S. Bureau of Land Management data finds that protecting the lizard would affect less than 1 percent of public lands where drilling was proposed in 2010 and 2011.

“Representative Pearce’s outlandish claim that the dunes sagebrush lizard will be a huge job-killer for the oil and gas industry simply isn’t backed up by the facts,” said Jay Lininger, an ecologist with the Center and author of the report. “This endangered animal occupies a fraction of the public lands proposed for oil and gas drilling. Even where the lizard lives, drilling can go forward in almost every instance.”

Today’s report analyzes oil and gas areas proposed for leasing in 2010 and 2011 by BLM field offices in Carlsbad and Roswell.

In 2010 and the first half of 2011, the BLM offered 52,874 acres for lease in southeast New Mexico. Only 2,920 of those acres (5.5 percent) were identified by the BLM as habitat for the lizard. The agency determined that drilling could go forward on all 2,920 acres subject to conditions intended to protect habitat.

For the second half of 2011, the BLM has proposed 22,383 acres for possible leasing. At most, 3,484 acres may be habitat for the lizard, according to the BLM. Of those, the agency will allow drilling on 2,924 acres and defer leasing on just 560 acres — which is less than 1 percent of all areas proposed for drilling since January 2010.

“Pearce misleads the public about environmental policy in service to the fossil fuel industry,” Lininger said. “He can make up whatever he likes, but it just makes him look foolish.”

Pearce accepted nearly $1.2 million in campaign contributions from oil and gas interests. 

Today’s report bolsters U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service statements that protection of the dunes sagebrush lizard “would not imperil jobs” and that “there’s just no data to support” Pearce’s claims.

Similarly, officials with New Mexico’s state forestry division have stated that Pearce's claims that legal protections for the spotted owl caused the decline of the timber industry were “incorrect and oversimplified.”

The dunes sagebrush lizard has the second smallest range of any North American lizard, living only in southeast New Mexico and western Texas on sand dunes covered by shinnery oak. The lizard’s dunes habitat has long been in decline.

The Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned for the lizard’s protection in 2002. In December 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed protecting the lizard under the Endangered Species Act.

Protection for the lizard is unlikely to imperil jobs because the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is charged with protecting endangered species, almost never halts development projects altogether. Rather, the agency requires reasonable modification or mitigation ensuring that species aren’t driven extinct and that the environment receives some protection.

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