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For Immediate Release, May 18, 2011

Contact: Jay Lininger, (928) 853-9929        

State Politician Holds Farce "Science" Panel on Endangered Species Act Protection for
Dunes Sagebrush Lizard

Rep. Pearce, Others Cling to Debunked Theory That Lizard Protection Threatens
New Mexico Oil and Gas Jobs

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity today blasted a panel assembled Tuesday in Artesia, N.M., by state Rep. Dennis Kintigh (R-Roswell) as a rigged and phony review of proposed Endangered Species Act protection for the dunes sagebrush lizard.

“An opportunistic politician stacked the panel to support his baseless claim that protecting the lizard will cause economic harm,” said Jay Lininger, an ecologist with the Center. “Kintigh already made his views known, and he didn’t bother to hear from scientists who disagree with him. It’s a public-relations stunt, not a science review.” 

In a blog last week, Kintigh stated that protecting the lizard could “endanger the economic life” of New Mexico by reducing state revenues from oil and gas drilling. This conclusion is directly contradicted by a study released by the Center on May 5, showing the lizard had little effect on oil and gas drilling. Of oil and gas leases offered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in 2010 and 2011, less than 1 percent were set aside for the lizard. The federal agency manages nearly all the lizard’s habitat in New Mexico.

Kintigh also misinterpreted research findings by the University of New Mexico, claiming that lizard populations increased in response to oil and gas drilling. Such a conclusion is directly contradicted by the very study cited by Kintigh and by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service studies.

Kintigh’s outlandish claims echo similar ones made by U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), including at Tuesday’s panel in Artesia, where Pearce said “most of the oil and gas jobs in southeast New Mexico are at risk” if the fish and wildlife agency decides to give the lizard federal protection. Pearce has accepted nearly $1.2 million from oil and gas interests.

The Center last week challenged Pearce to release information supporting his claim that protecting the lizard will jeopardize thousands of oil and gas jobs. In response, Pearce cited a 2005 report that stated: “Land management decisions that restrict or preclude full mineral development of certain state and federal lands thus affect the flow of revenues into local and state economies.” However, the Center study shows that “full development” is happening now because more oil and gas leases on public lands are already available to the industry than it demands.

“The oil and gas industry chose not to buy almost 15 percent of the leases offered to it,” Lininger said. “That surplus is entirely outside of lizard habitat.”  

The Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages endangered species, has stated that protection of the dunes sagebrush lizard “would not imperil jobs,” and that “there’s just no data to support” claims of economic harm. Protection for the lizard is unlikely to imperil jobs because the wildlife agency almost never halts development activity. Rather, it sometimes requires modification of activity to ensure that species aren’t driven extinct.

In 2010 and the first half of 2011, the BLM proposed 52,874 acres for oil and gas leasing in southeast New Mexico. Of that, 2,920 acres (5.5 percent) were identified by the BLM as habitat for the lizard. The agency determined that drilling could go forward on all 2,920 acres subject to conditions intended to protect habitat.

For the second half of 2011, the BLM has proposed 22,383 acres for leasing. At most, 3,484 acres may be habitat for the lizard, according to the BLM. The agency will allow drilling on 2,924 acres (84 percent of habitat) and defer leasing on 560 acres — which is less than 1 percent of all lands proposed for drilling — until the Fish and Wildlife Service makes a listing decision on the lizard.

The dunes sagebrush lizard has the second-smallest range of any North American lizard, living only in southeast New Mexico and western Texas on sand dunes covered by shinnery oak. The lizard’s dunes habitat has long been in decline. The Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned for the lizard’s protection in 2002. In December 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed protecting the lizard under the Endangered Species Act.

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