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For Immediate Release: December 13, 2010

Contact: Tierra Curry, (928) 522-3681

Endangered Species Act Protection Finally Proposed for Dunes Sagebrush Lizard

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— More than eight years after the Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned to have the species protected under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today finally proposed protection for the dunes sagebrush lizard, a sand-dwelling lizard that only lives in small parts of New Mexico and Texas. The agency is proposing to list the lizard as endangered.

“The unique dunes sagebrush lizard is finally receiving the protection it needs to survive,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center. “Unfortunately, during eight years of delay, the lizard lost more of its habitat to oil and gas development, putting it at greater risk of extinction and making recovery harder.”  

Also known as the sand dune lizard, the dunes sagebrush lizard has the second smallest range of any North American lizard, living only in southeast New Mexico and western Texas on sand dunes covered by shinnery oak. This unique plant is often only four or five inches tall, but can be thousands of years old and makes up the largest stand of oak in the country. The heart of the lizard’s range is the Mescalero Sands, a narrow, crescent-shaped area of beautiful, rolling dunes in southeast New Mexico.

“The dunes sagebrush lizard occurs in one of the most exceptional, but least protected, areas of New Mexico and Texas and remains under threat from livestock grazing and oil and gas development,” said Greenwald.

Because shinnery oak is toxic to cattle for a couple of months every year and competes with grasses preferred by livestock, many ranchers remove the plant using the herbicide Tebuthiuron, which devastates lizard populations.  

“Continued destruction of the dunes sagebrush lizard’s native habitat is driving it to extinction,” said Greenwald. “Protecting this lizard as an endangered species is critical to its survival.”    

The endangered species designation for the lizard will require limits on herbicide spraying and oil and gas drilling, additional funding for research, and development of a recovery plan. The dunes sagebrush lizard is a small, brown lizard that buries itself in sand to avoid predators and regulate its body temperature. It occurs in Chaves, Eddy, Lea and Roosevelt counties in New Mexico and Andrews, Crane, Gaines, Ward and Winkler counties in Texas.

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