Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 20, 2018

Contact: Chris Nagano, (916) 765-9097,

Texas Kills Conservation Plan for Lizard Threatened by Fossil Fuel Extraction

Feds Used Plan to Justify Not Protecting Species

AUSTIN, Texas— The dunes sagebrush lizard, a rare species threatened by fossil fuel extraction in Texas and New Mexico, is now completely unprotected after a Texas agency withdrew its conservation plan.

In a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Texas comptroller of public accounts said the state had discontinued protection for the imperiled lizard. Texas revoked protections despite the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife earlier this year filing a petition to list the species under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service is now reviewing a new conservation proposal.

Dunes sagebrush lizards live in a small area of the Permian Basin in southeastern New Mexico and southwestern Texas. They are severely threatened by oil drilling and especially mining for sand used in oil-industry fracking operations.

“The dunes sagebrush lizard needs every ounce of help it can get, but Texas and the oil and gas industry are determined to stand in the way,” said Chris Nagano, a senior scientist at the Center. “The only reason this rare lizard isn’t protected is political interference by the same fossil fuel interests rapidly destroying its habitat.”

The dunes sagebrush lizard was first identified as needing protection in 1982. It was found to warrant protection and placed on a candidate list in 2001. In 2002 the Center petitioned for protection, leading to a 2010 proposal to safeguard the lizard as endangered.

The proposal, however, was withdrawn in 2012 based on the highly flawed conservation plan developed by Susan Combs, then the Texas comptroller. Now, under Trump, Combs is acting assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks in the U.S. Department of the Interior, where she oversees much of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s work.

After discovering that the lizard was now also threatened by frack-sand mining, the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife filed a second petition to protect the lizard under the Endangered Species Act on May 8, 2018. To date the Service has not made a determination on that petition.    

Officials with the Texas comptroller’s office said in their Nov. 10 letter that they were concerned the Service was considering changes to the conservation plan or transferring its authority to another unnamed entity. The letter noted these efforts would not be “ … in the best interest of the state, the Service, or the species.”

The state has submitted a new candidate conservation agreement for the lizard to the Fish and Wildlife Service, but the document has not been made public and it remains unclear when it might be approved.

Despite efforts made under the conservation plan in New Mexico, habitat fragmentation and destruction on Bureau of Land Management, state and private lands is ongoing.  Combined with the loss of habitat in Texas, that destruction continues to imperil the dunes sagebrush lizard.

The dune sagebrush lizard (Sceloporus arenicolus) is light brown and reaches a length of about three inches.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

More press releases