Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 26, 2022


Michael Robinson, (575) 313-7017,

Legal Agreement Moves Dunes Sagebrush Lizard One Step Closer to Protection

Oil, Gas Extraction in Texas, New Mexico Threatens Rare Lizard

SILVER CITY, N.M.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed yesterday to decide by June 29, 2023, whether to protect the imperiled dunes sagebrush lizard under the Endangered Species Act. The lizard has been waiting for protection for four decades.

The dunes sagebrush lizard lives in a small area of West Texas and southeastern New Mexico that overlays a part of the Permian Basin. Over the last decade, the region has been one of the fastest-growing oil and gas extraction areas in the world. This decision comes after the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Service in May for stalling on deciding whether to protect the lizard.

“I’m relieved that these intrepid little lizards are finally getting another shot at protection,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center. “The dunes sagebrush lizard will go extinct if the species doesn’t get Endangered Species Act safeguards from the environmental wreckage caused by the oil and gas industry.”

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.

“Wildlife officials can’t let big oil and gas interests smooth-talk them out of protecting the dunes sagebrush lizard again,” said Robinson. “We’re in the middle of an extinction crisis, and every day counts.”


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. Earlier this year, the Center sued the Service over this delay, leading to this legal agreement.

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.

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.

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