Conservation Matters June 2012

The Texas Land, Water and Wildlife Connection

Dunes sagebrush lizard not listed as an endangered species

Dunes sagebrush LizardThe U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has announced that the dunes sagebrush lizard will not be listed under the Endangered Species Act. USFWS credited the decision to voluntary conservation agreements now in place in New Mexico and Texas that provided for long-term conservation of the lizard.

Earlier this year, USFWS approved the Texas Conservation Plan for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, a voluntary species conservation plan spearheaded by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs with the help of stakeholders representing landowners, the oil and gas industry, agriculture and state and federal agencies. You can view more information about the plan and how it will affect landowners, on the Texas Comptroller's website.

"This is a great example of how states and landowners can take early, landscape-level action to protect wildlife habitat before a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, in a press release. "The voluntary conservation efforts of Texas and New Mexico, oil and gas operators, private landowners and other stakeholders show that we don't have to choose between energy development and the protection of our land and wildlife—we can do both." 

State-led voluntary conservation efforts to protect existing shinnery oak dune habitat and greatly reduce the impact of oil and gas development across the species' range now cover over 650,000 acres in New Mexico and Texas, totaling 88 percent of the lizard's habitat, according to the Department of the Interior.

"The states of New Mexico and Texas have worked tirelessly with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and scores of landowners and operators in the Permian Basin to conserve and protect habitat that supports the dunes sagebrush lizard and many other species," said USFWS Director Dan Ashe.

The Endangered Species Act requires that listing decisions be based solely on the best available science. A species is listed as endangered when it is threatened with extinction through all or a significant portion of its range.

Since proposing the rule to list the lizard in December 2010, USFWS has received new information provided by the BLM and Texas A&M University that has enabled refined mapping of suitable and occupied shinnery oak dune habitat in New Mexico and Texas and identified more known occupied sites for the lizard, especially in Texas, according to USFWS.

USFWS biologists' analysis of the scientific data and the protections provided by the voluntary conservation efforts determined that the lizard is no longer in danger of extinction nor likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

"This is a major victory for Texas jobs and our energy economy," Combs said in a press release. "Working with energy producers and other stakeholders, we were able to enroll nearly 250,000 acres in West Texas as part of the Texas Conservation Plan. This decision proves we don't have to choose between the environment and our economy, but can be good stewards of both. Energy exploration is the economic lifeblood of West Texas, and I am delighted we were able to come up with a creative solution that protects paychecks, property rights and jobs."

According to USFWS, they will closely monitor the conservation measures to ensure they are being implemented and effectively address identified threats. USFWS can reevaluate whether the lizard requires Endangered Species Act protection.

For more information on the dunes sagebrush lizard, see the USFWS web page for the species.

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