CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY Tucson AZ
LAWSUIT CHALLENGES ILLEGAL DENIAL OF E.S.A. LISTING
TUCSON -- Conservation groups and scientists filed a lawsuit today against the Bush administration and Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton for their illegal January 3 denial of Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection for the Flat-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma mcallii), an attractive Sonoran desert native that looks like a mini-dinosaur.
“Bush and Norton’s unjustified and illegal denial of protection
for the Flat-tailed Horned Lizard must be reversed.” said Daniel
R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Without
ESA listing and critical habitat designation, imperiled species get
only bureaucratic lip-service as they slide to extinction.”
“Once again, this Interior Department refuses to follow the
law and protect wildlife, even in the face of a federal court appellate
decision rejecting the current rationale not to list. The Bush administration
must be held accountable to avoid the loss of this lizard species and
the continued degradation of California's last wild places.” said
Cynthia Wilkerson, California Species Associate with Defenders of Wildlife.
“We know of only one remaining population of Flat-tailed Horned Lizards left in the Coachella Valley. That’s an undeniable indicator of decline for an animal that was once found from the vicinity of Snow Creek and throughout the sandy areas of the Valley.” said University of California biologist Dr. Al Muth. “Its ludicrous that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dismissed this population as insignificant, and it smells more of politics than biology.”
A pending Interior decision to open 50,000 protected acres of the Algodones Dunes to intensive off-road vehicle use is an example of the deadly management Norton is pursuing for the lizard and its habitat.
As the common name suggests, the species is recognized by its broad, flattened tail but also has long, sharp horns on its head, two rows of fringe scales along its abdomen, a dark stripe along its backbone, and concealed external ear openings. Adults of this species range in size between 2.5 and 4.3 inches long, excluding the tail.
“Despite a multi-party voluntary conservation agreement signed in 1997, Flat-tailed Horned Lizards continue to lose valuable habitat and populations are still declining.” said Taylor Edwards, President of the Tucson Herpetological Society. “A significant threat to the Flat-tailed Horned Lizard is the Yuma Area Service Highway that threatens to divide the last remaining habitat stronghold for this species in Arizona.” He adds, “We’re concerned with the associated urban sprawl that would accompany the highway if it is built, increasing the loss and fragmentation of important Flat-tailed Horned Lizard habitat.”
A proposed rule to list the species as threatened was published in the Federal Register on November 29, 1993. On July 15, 1997, the US Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew its proposal to list the Flat-tailed Horned Lizard as threatened.
The decision to withdraw the proposed listing was challenged in court by conservation groups. On October 24, 2001, the District Court ordered the Service to reinstate the 1993 proposed rule to list the lizard as threatened and to make a new final listing determination for the species. Early this year the Service again withdrew that rule, denying legal protection for the lizard. Norton claims that an un-implemented and unenforceable voluntary conservation agreement will protect the species. The lizard and its habitat continue to decline.
“The voluntary conservation plan developed by government agencies is a sham, scam and shame. It exists to protect agencies’ butts, not the Flat-tailed Horned Lizard.” saidElden Hughes, Chair, Sierra Club Desert Committee.
Species information: http://www.cvmshcp.org/sp_22.htm