For Immediate Release, May 19, 2022

Contact:

Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017, michaelr@biologicaldiversity.org

Lawsuit Aims to Protect Dunes Sagebrush Lizard From Extinction

Lizard Threatened by Oil, Gas Development in Permian Basin

SILVER CITY, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for again stalling in making a decision on whether to grant Endangered Species Act protections to the dunes sagebrush lizard. The agency has delayed protecting the lizard for four decades.

The lizard lives in a very small area of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico overlaying a part of the Permian Basin, which over the last decade has been one of world’s fastest-growing oil and gas extraction areas.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.

“We won’t stand by while the last dunes sagebrush lizards disappear,” said Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate at the Center. “Even as the oil and gas industry ruins our climate, it’s also destroying the lizards’ last homes. Protection under the Endangered Species Act is this unique animal’s last hope.”

The 2.5-inch-long dunes sagebrush lizard has the second-smallest range of any lizard in North America. The lizards inhabit a rare ecosystem where they hunt insects and spiders in wind-blown dunes. They burrow 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 extraction and other development, as well as herbicide spraying to support livestock grazing. Much of the lizards’ 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.

“Dunes sagebrush lizards are perfectly adapted to their shinnery oak dune habitats, but they won’t survive the oil and gas industry without protection,” said Robinson. “Climate change isn’t just caused by burning fossil fuels. It’s also driven by the destruction of carbon-storing natural habitats like those needed by the lizard. This destruction in turn is the main cause of the extinction crisis and thus the oil and gas industry’s destruction of the natural world is a double whammy.”

Background

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 continuing litigation, the Service proposed to list the lizard in 2010. However, the agency instead struck a deal with the Texas Comptroller’s Office to deny the lizard protection in exchange for non-binding agreements to protect some of the animal’s habitats.

In 2018 the Center again petitioned for protection and the Service issued an initial finding that a listing was warranted. It is now three years overdue in presenting a more comprehensive finding and an associated proposed rule to officially list the lizard as endangered and designate critical habitat.

The Service has long failed to provide timely protections to species in need. 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 12 years, and in many cases decades, to protect qualifying species. At least 47 species have gone extinct while awaiting protection.

RSdunes_sagebrush_lizard_Mark_L_Watson
Dunes sagebrush lizard. Photo by Mark L. Watson. 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.