Mojave fringe-toed lizards have numerous traits tailored to their sand-dwelling lifestyle. Foremost are the lizards' scaly hind toes, which resemble snowshoes and keep them from sinking as they sprint away from predators. Top Mojave fringe-toed lizard speeds have been clocked at 23 miles per hour — no small feat on loose, windblown sand dunes. These lizards plunge into the sand to hide from enemies, yet there they lie most vulnerable, still within reach of off-road vehicles' sand-digging tires.
The Amargosa River population of Mojave fringe-toed lizards occupies three dune ecosystems in and adjacent to Death Valley National Park, the largest of which is the Dumont Dunes, which host a recreation area attracting more than 130,000 off-road riders annually. The number of off-road vehicles trampling this sensitive area continues to climb, presenting a substantial threat to the Mojave fringe-toed lizard and its habitat. In an effort to prevent continued habitat destruction from rampant and uncontrolled use of off-road vehicles, the Center petitioned to protect the Mojave fringe-toed lizard's Amargosa River population as endangered in 2006.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service responded to our petition with a positive finding that Endangered Species Act protection might be warranted. Waiting for the agency to conduct a one-year status review of the species in 2008, we submitted public comments in support of the Mojave fringe-toed lizard being granted full protection. Finally, in 2011, we reached a landmark agreement with the Service compelling it to move forward on protections for this species — and 756 others. Under our settlement, a listing proposal for the lizard is due in 2011.
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2006 listing petition