Friday, March 4, 2011

Meet Our Endangered Lizard!

From KQRE:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing endangered species listing for a small lizard found only in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas.

The dunes sagebrush lizard is in danger of extinction throughout its entire range and faces significant threats due to oil and gas activities and herbicides, the agency said.

The light brown lizard, less than 3 inches long, lives in a small area of shinnery oak dunes in northeastern Chaves County, Roosevelt County, eastern Eddy and southern Lea counties in New Mexico and in a narrow band of the dunes in Gaines, Ward, Winkler and Andrews counties in Texas.

Yes, these are oaks.  This is how tall they get.
 The lizard has been affected by habitat loss and fragmentation from oil and gas development due to the removal of shinnery oak and the building of roads and pads, pipelines and power lines, Fish and Wildlife officials said.

The executive director of WildEarth Guardians in Santa Fe, John Horning, said he's cautiously optimistic about the Monday decision. He noted Fish and Wildlife officials propose to list the lizard under the Endangered Species Act, rather than saying a listing is warranted but precluded at this time, as it has done for other species.

The Endangered Species Act makes it illegal to kill or harm a listed species. It requires federal agencies to minimize the impact of their activities on listed species and directs Fish and Wildlife to develop and carry out recovery efforts for those species.

In just the last two days, the agency said the Sonoran desert tortoise in the Southwest and the wolverine found in several western states warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act but won't be listed because of higher priorities - other species considered to be in greater danger.

Horning said he hoped the lizard could be listed in about six months. The final decision will be made by the Interior Department secretary.

"This is getting closer to the day the species will be afforded the protection the agency itself has said it has needed for a decade now," Horning said.

Fish and Wildlife will take comments on the listing through Feb. 14.

Steve Henke, president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said his organization was disappointed by the listing decision but not surprised.

"Anytime you're dealing with an endangered species on existing oil and gas leases, it creates additional challenges," Henke said.

The federal agency placed the lizard on the candidate list for endangered species protection in October 2001.

WildEarth Guardians said scientists warned 13 years ago it may be too late to save the lizard from extinction.

Horning said the species has declined since then and "faces an urgent situation."

(See also the Pecos Pupfish.)

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