Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 29, 2023


Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017,

Dunes Sagebrush Lizard Proposed for Endangered Species Protection

Lizard Threatened by Oil, Gas Development in New Mexico, Texas

SILVER CITY, N.M.— In response to more than 20 years of advocacy by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the dunes sagebrush lizard is endangered and warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The lizards live in a very small area of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico that includes part of the Permian Basin, which over the last decade has been one of world’s fastest growing oil and gas fields.

“I’m relieved the precious dunes sagebrush lizard is finally on the path to protection,” said Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center. “I’m saddened and disgusted, however, that the Service allowed the lizard’s habitat to be destroyed for decades. The agency’s program for listing species is badly broken, too often allowing politics to interfere with saving plants and animals from extinction.”

In 2012 the Service withdrew its initial proposal to protect the lizard based on a hastily drafted conservation plan spearheaded by then-Texas Comptroller Susan Combs. That plan was withdrawn by Combs’ successor, Glenn Hegar, for not doing enough to protect the lizards from oil and gas drilling.

The 2.5-inch-long dunes sagebrush lizard has the second smallest range of any lizard in North America, inhabiting a rare ecosystem where it hunts insects and spiders in wind-blown dunes. It burrows into the sand beneath low-lying shinnery oak shrubs for protection from extreme temperatures.

More than 95% of the original shinnery oak dunes ecosystem has been destroyed by oil and gas and other development, as well as herbicide spraying to support livestock grazing. Much of the lizard’s remaining habitat is fragmented, preventing them from finding mates beyond those already living close by. The lizard is further imperiled by burgeoning sand mining operations in the area — a secondary impact of the oil and gas industry, which uses the sand for fracking.

“The dunes sagebrush lizard is marvelously adapted for life in extreme environments but it needs our help to survive the oil and gas industry’s destruction,” said Robinson. “The Service needs to move quickly to implement these long-overdue protections.”


The Fish and Wildlife Service identified the dunes sagebrush lizard as needing protection in 1982. In 2002, the Center submitted a petition to place the lizard on the endangered species list. Prompted by the Center’s litigation, the Service proposed to list the lizard in 2010. After the Service withdrew that proposal and its conservation plan failed, the Center again petitioned for protection in 2018, resulting in the new proposal.

The Service has long failed to provide timely protections to species at risk of extinction. The entire process of listing species and designating critical habitat is supposed to take two to three years. On average it has taken the Service 10 to 12 years, and in many cases decades, to protect qualifying species. At least 47 plants and animals have gone extinct while awaiting protection.

Dunes sagebrush lizard. Credit: USFWS. Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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