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For Immediate Release, December 1, 2011

Contact: Taylor McKinnon, (928) 310-6713

Protection for Rare Lizard Delayed As Feds Cave to Big Oil

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— Caving to political pressure from the oil and gas industry, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will delay Endangered Species Act protection for the dunes sagebrush lizard by six months. The Service had been slated to finalize protection for the increasingly rare lizard on Dec. 14 but backtracked in the face of mounting pressure from the oil and gas industry and its advocates in Congress, including Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.).

“There’s no scientific dispute that the lizard needs and deserves protection, so today’s announcement looks a lot like the subversion of science for political expedience,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Let’s hope this needless delay will finally put an end to the false claim being spread by Rep. Pearce that helping to save this creature will put an end to oil jobs. The oil and gas industry is not in danger of extinction. This lizard is.”

More than a decade of scientific research on the dunes sagebrush lizard demonstrates the species has very specific habitat requirements across a narrow strip of habitat. The lizard declines or disappears in the face of oil and gas development or herbicide spraying, both of which are rampant in the species’ habitat. Fish and Wildlife’s proposal for protection was extensively reviewed by scientists who universally supported the need for protection. 

Claims by Rep. Pearce and the oil and gas industry that protection of the lizard will decimate jobs are grossly overblown. A new analysis released this week by the Center for Biological Diversity shows that the lizard’s habitat occurs on just 2 percent of all lands in the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico.

“Facts are stubborn, and they simply don’t back up the hysterics being pushed by the oil and gas industry,” said McKinnon. “This lizard’s habitat is minuscule compared to the scope of oil and gas development in the basin — development that, by the way, will continue even if the animal is protected by the Endangered Species Act.”

In Texas, using geographic information systems and spatial data supplied by the state of Texas and Texas A&M University, the Center analyzed lizard habitat distribution relative to developable oil and gas lands within the Texas portion of the Permian Basin. 
The analysis found that:

  • Within the six Texas counties where lizard habitat occurs, that habitat makes up less than 5 percent of all lands.
  • Within those six counties, lizard habitat makes up about 5 percent of state lands where the state government collects oil and gas royalties.

In New Mexico, an analysis by the Center earlier this year that found that protecting the lizard in the New Mexico portion of the Permian Basin would affect less than 1 percent of public lands where drilling was proposed in 2010 and 2011.

Oil and gas extraction will continue in lizard habitat despite a federal listing, because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is likely to require only reasonable measures to conserve populations, such as avoidance of occupied sites. The Service maintains that it is “absolutely not true” that protecting the lizard under the Endangered Species Act will prohibit development.

“While insignificant in terms of oil and gas acres, these last slivers of habitat are all the lizard has — and they’re critical to preventing its extinction,” said McKinnon. “Industry’s refusal to yield even an inch to prevent an extinction makes a stark case for federal protections.”
The Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned for the lizard’s protection in 2002. In December 2010, the Service proposed protecting the lizard under the Endangered Species Act.

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