Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

For Immediate Release: June 28, 2006

Contact: Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist 520.623.5252 x306

Bush Administration Guts
Protections for Deserts and Imperiled Lizards

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Continuing its assault on America’s endangered species, the Bush administration today cancelled protection for the flat-tailed horned lizard, which is imperiled, declining and losing habitat.

Conservation groups and scientists won an important victory in August 2005 that gained some protection for the flat-tailed horned lizard (Phrynosoma mcallii), an attractive lizard that looks like a mini-dinosaur and lives in the lower Sonoran Desert of Arizona and California. But today, a Bush appointee in the Department of Interior, Julie MacDonald, axed its proposed Endangered Species Act protections.

“The flat-tailed horned lizard is fascinating and endangered. It needs Endangered Species Act protection, but Bush refuses to protect imperiled wildlife under the Act,” said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Last fall, federal judge Neil Wake, a Bush appointee, ruled that the Department of Interior’s “withdrawal of the proposed rule violated the Endangered Species Act and the Ninth Circuit’s remand order by failing to evaluate the lizard’s lost habitat.” Judge Wake struck down the Interior Department’s decision to withdraw the rule; therefore, much needed and overdue protection for the lizard was again proposed under the Endangered Species Act to help it survive and recover. But Bush has now cancelled wildlife protection again.

“The administration only looked at habitat quantity, not quality. Much of what the Fish and Wildlife Service calls ‘habitat’ is poor – fragmented, degraded and getting worse from off-road vehicles, weeds, urban sprawl and pesticide contamination,” said Patterson. “We’ll keep working to protect and recover the flat-tailed horned lizard. Without Endangered Species Act protection, imperiled wildlife only gets bureaucratic lip-service as they slide toward extinction.”

The Bush administration has the worst record of protecting endangered wildlife under the Endangered Species Act. The Act is one of America’s most important conservation laws and works to safeguard and recover endangered species. This is the third time the Bush administration has withdrawn a proposal to protect the flat-tailed horned lizard, with its first two decisions to do so being overturned by both a federal district court and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Horned Lizard Conservation Society, Tucson Herpetological Society and Defenders of Wildlife were forced into court in 2003 to challenge the Interior Department’s illegal January 2003 denial of Endangered Species Act protection for the lizard.

The flat-tailed horned lizard inhabits portions of the Sonoran Desert in southern California’s California Desert Conservation Area (Riverside, Imperial and San Diego counties), Arizona (Yuma County) and northwestern Mexico (Sonora and Baja Calif.).

The main cause for the decline of the lizard is conversion of its habitat to urban sprawl and agriculture. Global warming and border-related stresses are also significant threats to the species. Other threats include off-road vehicles, geothermal leases, gravel pits and highways. Additionally, flat-tailed horned lizards feed primarily on native harvester ants, and pesticide drift likely affects ant populations near agricultural areas.

The lizard is especially threatened near Palm Springs, Calif., in the Coachella Valley.

“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. “It’s ludicrous that the Fish and Wildlife Service won’t use the Act to protect the lizard, and it smells more of politics than biology.”

A pending Department of Interior decision to open 50,000 protected acres of the Algodones Dunes in Imperial County to intensive off-road vehicle use is an example of the deadly management it 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. 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.”

Attorneys Neil Levine and Bill Snape are representing conservation groups in this important case.

More information on the flat-tailed horned lizard is available at:

The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit, public interest conservation organization dedicated to the protection of native species and their habitats through science, policy and environmental law.


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