April 11, 2008

Wildlife Group Petitions For Sand Dune Lizard Protection

Conservation group WildEarth Guardians formally petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday in hopes that the government agency will offer express protection of an endangered lizard found in New Mexico and Texas.

The sand dune lizard has been on the Fish and Wildflife Service's list of potential candidates since 2001. In 1997, researchers at the University of New Mexico wrote that it might be too late to prevent the lizard's extinction

WildEarth spokespersons said they want to see actions being taken immediately, but say that it could be another year before the agency makes a decision.

"Each month that passes without ESA protection for the sand dune lizard, this species angles farther over the cliff and closer to extinction," the group's petition said.

WildEarth points to two contributing factors for the species' decline: oil and gas development and removal of shinnery oak due to herbicides which causes a 70-94 percent decline in lizard populations.

WildEarth's report cites research that showed a 25 percent drop in the lizard population when oil and gas well densities exceed 13 wells per square mile.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has received the petition, and plans to respond in a letter.

WildEarth said it plans to sue if the agency fails to act within 60 days.

Elizabeth Slown, a spokeswoman for the agency's southwestern region said funding was awarded this year to do surveys and other research to determine whether the lizard should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. The process usually takes about a year.

"We've been concerned about the sand dune lizard for some time," Slown said Thursday. "It's on the candidate list and we work with landowners in the area so that they know what the sand dune lizard needs, and an emergency listing lawsuit at this time is unnecessary and deters us from the process that we go through, the public process."

Nicole Rosmarino, wildlife program director for WildEarth, said that emergency action is crucial, noting that many other species have suffered during the time they were on the candidates list.

"Scientists predicted over 10 years ago that it might be too late to save it from extinction," Rosmarino said. "We think it deserves the insurance policy of Endangered Species Act protection and it deserves that protection quickly."


On the Net:

WildEarth Guardians

Fish and Wildlife Service

University of New Mexico