For Immediate Release, September 15, 2011
Michael Robinson, (575) 534-0360
New Mexico Legislature Rejects Bill Seeking to Delay Endangered Species Act
Protection for Dunes Sagebrush Lizard
SANTA FE, N.M.— New Mexico lawmakers today dealt a blow to those opposing Endangered Species Act protection for the rare dunes sagebrush lizard by rejecting a bill that sought to delay those protections for one year. The 7-6 vote in the state legislature’s House Judiciary Committee effectively kills a symbolic, non-binding memorial introduced by Rep. Paul C. Bandy (R-Aztec) during a special session of the New Mexico legislature convened primarily to redraw the state’s legislative and congressional districts.
“We are heartened that this misguided attempt to delay much-needed protections for the rare dunes sagebrush lizard failed,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, which first petitioned for the lizard’s protection in 2002. “In our view, this vote accurately represents the view of the people who by and large would not want to see this beautiful and enigmatic reptile go extinct.”
The failed memorial repeated a repudiated claim that protecting the lizard would have a “significant adverse impact” on the economy of southeastern New Mexico. In fact, the lizard’s habitat exists on less than 1 percent of the Permian Basin oil patch in southeast New Mexico and West Texas.
Had it passed, the memorial would have had no legal effect on the decision to list the lizard that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make by December 14 of this year.
“Imperiled animals such as the dunes sagebrush lizard don’t have the luxury of time,” said Robinson. “Some politicians may have all the time in the world to scapegoat a three-inch lizard, but the people of New Mexico should be gratified that state resources will no longer be taken up in this latest effort to delay needed conservation measures.”
Debate over protection for the lizard comes as oil and gas companies are stockpiling surplus drilling leases on public lands outside lizard habitat in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Companies have failed to use more than 6,500 drilling permits, yet the Interior Department expects to issue 40 percent more permits in 2011 than in 2010.
The dunes sagebrush lizard has the second-smallest range of any North American lizard, living only in southeast New Mexico and West Texas on sand dunes covered by shinnery oak. The lizard’s habitat has long been in decline. In December 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed protecting the lizard under the Endangered Species Act.