SAVING THE FLAT-TAILED HORNED LIZARD

With its cryptic coloration and flat body, the flat-tailed horned lizard is capable of disappearing on the desert floor. When a predator threatens, the lizard may run a short distance and then stop unexpectedly; next, it will lie motionless and blend into the sand, leaving its predator befuddled. But as farms and cities spread and off-road vehicles tear up the terrain, the flat-tailed horned lizard’s disappearing act may soon be all too real.

In 1980, the flat-tailed horned lizard in California was designated a sensitive species by the Bureau of Land Management. But it was not until 1993 that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally proposed listing the lizard as a threatened species. Since then, the species has been proposed for consideration three times by the agency, which has each time subsequently withdrawn its own listing proposal. In reaction to the second withdrawal in 2001, the Center and its allies — including the Tucson Herpetological Society, Horned Lizard Conservation Society and Defenders of Wildlife — filed suit against the agency in 2003. We won in 2005 when a federal court ruled that the Service’s withdrawal of its proposed rule was a violation of the Endangered Species Act. Yet in 2006, the Service again withdrew its proposal to list, and we went to court once more.

In 2007, the second withdrawal was upheld by the court, and the Center and allies appealed. In 2009, a federal district court ruled that the Service’s decision to deny the lizard protection was illegal, reinstating the species’ status as a proposed threatened species under the Endangered Species Act — but the Service again withdrew its listing proposal in 2011. The Center’s work to protect the lizard includes ongoing advocacy to defend the Algodones Dunes from off-road excess and control urban sprawl in Southern California.