Center for Biological Diversity

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


Thursday, May 15, 2003

Contact: Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist, Center 520.623.5252 x 306 or 520.906.2159
Cynthia Wilkerson, California Species Associate, Defenders of Wildlife 352.256.5583

WASHINGTON DC -- Conservation groups and scientists recently filed formal legal notice against the Bush administration and Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton that they will to sue over her illegal Janurary 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 in Tucson. “Our notice gives Norton two months to correct her illegal decision by moving to list the lizard.” He adds, “Without ESA listing and critical habitat designation, imperiled species get only bureaucratic lip-service as they slide to extinction.”

The flat-tailed horned lizard inhabits portions of the Sonoran Desert in southern California (Riverside, Imperial and San Diego counties), Arizona (Yuma county), and northwestern Mexico.

“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.

The main cause for the decline of the Flat-tailed Horned Lizard is conversion of habitat to urban and agricultural uses. The various uses include crops, cities, off-road vehicle use, geothermal leases, military and border patrol activities, gravel pits, highways, etc. Other factors responsible for the decline of this species include the use of pesticides on crops. Pesticide drift likely affects ant populations in adjacent habitat.

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. They feed primarily on native harvester ants.

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 conservationists. 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 unimplemented and unenforceable voluntary conservation agreement will protect the species. The lizard and its habitat continue to decline.

Contact Interior Secretary Norton's office for comment at 202.208.5615.

Species information:


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