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For Immediate Release, November 1, 2011

Contact:   Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Mark Salvo, WildEarth Guardians, (503) 757-4221
Leda Huta, Endangered Species Coalition, (240) 353-2765

Public Backs Dunes Sagebrush Lizard Protection

Protection Petition Surges Past 7,000 Signatures as White House Rejects Opposition
for Drawing Only 1,700 Signers

DALLAS— Environmentalists announced today that their petition on the White House’s “We the People” website seeking to have the dunes sagebrush lizard placed on the federal endangered species list has garnered more than 7,000 signatures in less than two weeks.

The petition has drawn vastly more public support than one placed on the White House site by oil and gas industry supporters asking that Endangered Species Act protection be denied. That petition garnered just 1,700 signers and was taken down by the White House for failing to garner 5,000 signatures within 30 days.

“The American public supports protecting the sagebrush lizard. The public saw right through the oil industry’s hysterical claim that saving the lizard from extinction would shut down oil drilling,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Lizard habitat makes up less than 2 percent of the Permian Basin oil-drilling zone. It has had very little impact on oil drilling.”

The dunes sagebrush lizard has declined toward extinction as its habitat has been destroyed and fragmented by oil and gas drilling and herbicide spraying. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that it merited listing as an endangered species in 2001 and in 2010 published a proposed rule to place it on the federal endangered species list. The proposal was supported by independent scientific peer-reviewers. A final decision on the proposal is due by Dec. 16, 2011.

“The success of the pro-protection petition shows that the American people care deeply about protecting the dunes sagebrush lizard,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “The USFWS declared the lizard one of its highest priorities 10 years ago, and we are glad they are finally going to offer it the protection it needs. We owe it to future generations of Americans to protect endangered species and the special places they call home.”

Though the dunes sagebrush lizard’s habitat spans less than 2 percent of the entire oil-rich Permian Basin, industry-backed politicians Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) have asserted that protecting the lizard will shut down essentially all oil drilling, causing an economic catastrophe in New Mexico and Texas, as well as a nationwide oil shortage. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has called the claim false.

“Industry is trying to make the dunes sagebrush lizard into Godzilla, needlessly scaring citizens to score political points,” said Mark Salvo of WildEarth Guardians. “There is no reason to be afraid of this three-inch reptile.”

A May 2011 report by the Center for Biological Diversity found that the Bureau of Land Management deferred oil and gas leasing on only 560 acres in New Mexico to conserve lizard habitat in 2010 — less than 1 percent of public lands proposed for oil and gas development. In Texas, the State Comptroller and Land Commissioner jointly found that only 3 percent of dunes sagebrush lizard habitat overlaps with oil and gas land.

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