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For Immediate Release, April 28, 2011

Contact: Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495

Group Calls on New Mexico Congressman to Recant False Statements About Dunes Sagebrush Lizard

TUCSON, Ariz.— Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M) tonight is expected to once again spread misinformation and specious claims about how the protection of the highly endangered dunes sagebrush lizard will affect the state’s economy. Pearce is expected to speak at a public hearing in Roswell, N.M., where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking public comment on protection for the lizard under the Endangered Species Act. Pearce’s statements about impacts on jobs have been roundly debunked by federal and state officials.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which first petitioned for the lizard’s protection in 2002, today called on Pearce to recant his comments.

“Congressman Pearce’s campaign of misinformation and hysteria is a threat to democracy,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director for the Center. “A healthy democracy requires good information and trustworthy politicians. When people like Pearce abuse their positions of power and promote hysteria with fear mongering, they undermine the foundation of democracy and civil society.”

Rep. Pearce was quoted in the Las Cruces Sun-News as stating, "Most of the oil and gas jobs in southeast New Mexico are at risk," adding that "[i]n the '70s, they listed the spotted owl as endangered, and it killed the entire timber industry." The spotted owl, however, was not listed until 1990. This is just one of Rep. Pearce’s factual errors and misstatements.

The Las Cruces Sun-News further reported that in response to Pearce’s statements, officials from the Fish and Wildlife Service stated that protection of the lizard “would not imperil jobs” and that “there’s just no data to support” Pearce’s claims. Officials from New Mexico's state forestry division also stated that Pearce's claim about the timber industry declining because of protections for the owl was “incorrect and oversimplified.”

“Spreading misinformation may serve Representative Pearce’s big-pocketed campaign contributors in the oil and gas industry, but it certainly doesn’t serve the public, which overwhelmingly supports saving species from extinction,” said Suckling. “The dunes sagebrush lizard is a highly endangered species that has been recognized as needing protection by the Fish and Wildlife Service for more than a decade.”

Open Secrets reports that Pearce received nearly $1.2 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, more than any other single category of contributors.  

Protection for the lizard is unlikely to imperil jobs because the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is charged with protecting endangered species, almost never halts development projects altogether. Rather, the agency requires reasonable modification or mitigation ensuring that species aren’t driven extinct and that the environment receives some protection. The fact that protecting the lizard is unlikely to harm jobs is backed up by data obtained by the Center showing that the lizard has little impact on oil and gas leasing on federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which is where the lizard is primarily found. For the second half of 2011, the Bureau nominated 23,723 acres for leasing, of which 3,484 acres (14.7 percent) was considered suitable. Of these lands, the agency will allow drilling on 2,924 acres (83.9 percent of suitable land) and only defer leasing on a mere 560 acres (2 percent of nominated lands).

“Contrary to Representative Pearce’s claims, the sky will not fall because of protection of the dunes sagebrush lizard,” said Suckling. “Although we recognize that oil and gas is going to continue to flow from this area, the sooner we can move to a green economy through conservation and by finding cleaner energy sources, the stronger we’ll all be economically.”

The Center petitioned for protection of the lizard in 2002 and subsequently sued to force the Fish and Wildlife Service to act. Instead of protecting the lizard, the agency placed the lizard on its “candidate” list, where it remained until December, when it was proposed for listing.

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