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For Immediate Release, September 9, 2011

Contact:  Jay Lininger, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 853-9929
Leanne Leith, Conservation Voters New Mexico, (505) 710-8406

New Mexico Politician Relies on Misinformation in Seeking Delay of Protection for Rare Lizard

Bill Cites Debunked Claims of Widespread Economic Harm From Saving Lizard
That Lives in Just 1 Percent of Permian Basin

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Conservation Voters New Mexico today criticized a bill introduced Thursday by state Rep. Paul Bandy (R-Aztec) seeking a one-year delay of federal listing for the rare dunes sagebrush lizard under the Endangered Species Act. Bandy’s bill repeats the long-debunked claim that protecting the lizard would have a “significant adverse impact” on the economy of southeast New Mexico. In fact, the lizard’s habitat exists on less than 1 percent of the Permian Basin oil patch in southeast New Mexico and west Texas.

“Politicians opposing lizard protection make the outlandish claim that it will harm the economy but cite no evidence to back that up,” said Jay Lininger, an ecologist with the Center. “This imperiled animal’s habitat is minuscule compared to oil and gas activity in southeast New Mexico.”

Even if passed by the New Mexico Legislature in its current special session, the bill would have no legal effect on the decision to list the lizard that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will make by December 14.

“During this special session, legislators and Governor Martinez should be focused on their constitutional responsibility to redistrict the state, and on critical priorities like banning fireworks during drought,” said Leanne Leith, political director of Conservation Voters New Mexico. “Inflammatory and divisive measures like this distract attention and waste time.”

Debate over protection for the lizard comes as oil and gas companies are stockpiling surplus drilling leases on public lands outside lizard habitat in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. Companies have failed to use more than 6,500 drilling permits, yet the Interior Department expects to issue 40 percent more permits in 2011 than in 2010.

The dunes sagebrush lizard has the second-smallest range of any North American lizard, living only in southeast New Mexico and west Texas on sand dunes covered by shinnery oak. The lizard’s habitat has long been in decline. The Center 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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