Protecting endangered species and wild places through
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For immediate release
April 10, 2006

Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist 520.623.5252 x306

Mojave fringe-toed lizard moves closer to
Endangered Species Act protection

Uma scoparia threatened by BLM management allowing off-road vehicle abuse of desert dunes

Baker, Calif. – The Mojave fringe-toed lizard (Uma scoparia) moved closer to protection today as the Center for Biological Diversity and Ms. Sylvia Papadakos-Morafka petitioned the Bush Interior Department to list the Amargosa River Distinct Population Segment (DPS) as threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“The Mojave fringe-toed lizard is a fascinating creature, but it is being wiped out by off-road vehicle impacts and poor BLM management,” said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity who formerly worked with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Mojave Desert. “Without Endangered Species Act protection now we could lose the lizard, and along with it part of our natural desert heritage and quality of life.”

The Amargosa River Population qualifies as a Distinct Population Segment because it is discrete, significant, and threatened or endangered. As are all fringe-toed lizards, the Amargosa River population of northeastern San Bernardino County, California (Dumont Dunes, Ibex Dunes, and Coyote Holes) is highly restricted to fine sand environments. Unfortunately, a significant portion the population’s range has suffered severe habitat destruction and modification by extensive off-road vehicle (ORV) traffic.

Petitioners also request that critical habitat be designated for the Amargosa River DPS of Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard concurrent with listing.

The Amargosa River DPS meets three criteria for consideration as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act: the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.

The most significant threat to the Amargosa River population is intensive off-road vehicle recreational use, which has killed many lizards directly and destroyed the lizards’ habitat. The BLM’s management of the lizard’s habitat allows intensive ORV use over a majority of its range.

Recent surveys at Ibex Dunes and Dumont Dunes (more than 98 percent of the population’s range) found low densities of Uma scoparia and massive habitat destruction by ORVs at Dumont Dunes.

Extensive ORV traffic at Dumont Dunes, and to a lesser extent Coyote Holes and Ibex Dunes, poses a substantial threat to the continued existence of the Amargosa River DPS of the Mojave fringe-toed lizard. Since the 1970s, Dumont has experienced a more than 230 percent increase in off-road vehicle traffic (BLM statistic). This increase has fueled illegal traffic to both Ibex Dunes and Coyote Holes, presenting a population-wide threat. ORVs at Dumont Dunes result in direct harm to the lizard and destruction of its habitat. When disturbed, the lizard dives into loose sand only a few centimeters deep, where it is vulnerable to death or injury from ORV sand-digging tires. ORVs destroy habitat by trampling above-ground vegetation and destroying shallow root systems common to many desert plants. This destruction of vegetation also results in a decline of insects, reducing the Mojave fringe-toed lizard’s food sources.

At Death Valley National Park, Uma scoparia could not be located at two of three potential historical sites. Ibex Dunes may represent the only remaining population within the Park.

Furthermore, Coyote Holes – a sand blowout east of Dumont Dunes – is an extremely small piece of habitat that could be significantly damaged by a single occurrence from illegal ORV use.

ORV use leading to extirpation of Uma scoparia is a realistic threat. Recent surveys at the BLM’s El Mirage off-road “open area” showed that Uma scoparia is likely extirpated at this site, and that its disappearance is likely due to habitat destruction and direct harm by ORVs (Morafka, 2000 and 2002, BLM, 2004a). Morafka (2000) concludes of El Mirage Dry Lake: “Local dunes appeared to be plowed by massive and repetitive ORV traffic, destroying perennial vegetation and altering dunes surfaces.”

Other significant threats to the Amargosa River DPS are toxins in the environment from nearby military operations, residual pesticides, and blocking of sand sources, all of which have likely contributed to local extirpation of lizard populations (Morafka 2000 and 2002).

The Amargosa River DPS of Uma scoparia is in need of protection as a threatened or endangered species with critical habitat. Listing for the Amargosa River DPS and critical habitat is essential due to massive habitat destruction and low densities of Uma scoparia found by Morafka (2002) at Dumont Dunes and low densities of Uma scoparia found by Emmerich (1998) at Ibex Dunes, comprising the vast majority of the population’s range. The request for listing as a Distinct Population Segment is based in large part on genetic analyses by Murphy et al. (In review), showing the population to be isolated and genetically distinct.

The Center and Ms. Papadakos-Morafka submit this petition in the memory of Dr. David Morafka. Dr. Morafka was a leading scientist on Uma scoparia, and he supported Endangered Species Act listing to ensure its survival and recovery in the wild.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service must issue a finding on the merits of the 28-page petition by July 12, 2006.



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