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For Immediate Release, June 13, 2012

Contact:  Taylor McKinnon, (928) 310-6713

Dunes Sagebrush Lizard Denied Endangered Species Act Protection

Obama Administration Caves to Oil and Gas Industry Pressure

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— In a decision that ignores science and blatantly sidesteps the intentions of the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today denied protection for the dunes sagebrush lizard, leaving one of the nation’s most imperiled lizard species to rely on unenforceable, voluntary conservation plans. The ruling, which comes after heavy lobbying by the oil and gas industry and a Republican-fueled misinformation campaign exaggerating potential job losses, was blasted by the Center for Biological Diversity as a politically orchestrated detour around the powerful environmental law that, over the past four decades, has saved 99 percent of the species placed under its protection.
  
“This decision by the Obama administration to toss aside the Endangered Species Act and bow to the wishes of the oil and gas industry is not only bad news for this rare lizard but sets a dangerous precedent for other declining species,” said Taylor McKinnon with of Center for Biological Diversity. “In denying the lizard protection, Secretary Salazar is sticking his head in the sand and ignoring science.”

Today’s decision relies heavily on voluntary agreements to conserve the lizard’s tiny habitat — making up just 2 percent of Permian Basin oil and gas lands — even though there is no guarantee the agreements will ever be implemented or that they would be effective at saving the lizard from extinction, particularly once the threat of Endangered Species Act protection has been removed. Meanwhile, oil and gas development, livestock grazing and road construction continue to fragment and destroy what’s left of the lizard’s fragile habitat.

The Obama administration has touted voluntary measures as a way to skirt Endangered Species Act requirements to ensure species’ recovery. (One such agreement covering federal and state lands in New Mexico has been in place for 7 years.) The brand new Texas Conservation Plan, created this year, has not gained wide acceptance among oil and gas operators or private landowners, who assert that the lizard does not need any protection. About one-third of the lizard’s habitat is in west Texas.

“The Texas Oil and Gas Association told federal biologists that its members will not voluntarily conserve lizard habitat because it is too expensive,” McKinnon said. “They want to use the agreement as a get-out-of-jail free card.”

Earlier this year, the Center produced an analysis of the Texas plan, finding that it is unlikely to be effective because it lacks definite funding, is voluntary and prescribes vague measures lacking accountability. Indeed, Susan Combs, Texas’s state comptroller, has called that plan “purely voluntary.”

An analysis last year by the Center found that the Bureau of Land Management had put less than 1 percent of its Permian Basin land off limits to oil and gas drilling to protect the dunes sagebrush lizard, a finding that called into question claims by Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) that more than 4,000 oil and gas wells in the lizard’s habitat could be shut down if the lizard gained protection.

“Whether it’s in New Mexico, Texas, the Rockies or someplace else, if we leave the protection of endangered species to voluntary programs for individual landowners or to the whims of individual state governments, the species will always lose,” said McKinnon. “We can pretend that’s not the case, but our history — from the treatment of grizzlies to bald eagles and brown pelicans — proves otherwise. That’s why the law says decisions to protect species must be based on science, not convenience.”  

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 350,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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