No Love for the Sagebrush Lizard
~ Samantha Lewis
Credit should always be given for the defenders of the wildlife out there who are doing their absolute best to protect and save both creatures and habitats that are disappearing worldwide. Fights are won and lost. Some even change and become more than a bit confusing: such as, the wolves being moved into Yellowstone as a project to protect and defend, which is now turning into a hunting opportunity that puts the wolves at risk. But that’s for another time.
There is one small creature that is needed in the ecosystem of southeastern New Mexico and Texas that has brought havoc to oil drillers for a while now. A barely noticeable member of the animal kingdom, the dunes sagebrush lizard has literally been the subject of a battle that
has gone on for years, with the end game being that the lizard will not be getting any love, even after all the hard work that groups have been doing to make sure it is saved.
Habitat destruction is their primary threat. Much of the lizard’s range was sprayed with herbicides in order to clear the land for cattle, and the lizards are now extinct at these specific locations because of that. The dune systems are heavily impacted by oil industry activities. And while the spraying of herbicides has been outlawed in the dunes, the oil industry has not.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the dunes sagebrush lizard as endangered under the Endangered Species Act back in 2011, but the decision was delayed in order to allow the scientific community to “research” the lizard more closely. Most people believed that the delay was simply because of oil and gas industry arguments that the FWS didn’t want to deal with. Environmentalists fought for this lizard. They even took their argument to Capitol Hill, where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the dunes sagebrush lizard would not be placed on the federal government’s endangered species list, after all.
Back then, the Service stated that: “After a careful analysis of the scientific data and the protections provided by the voluntary conservation efforts, Service biologists determined the lizard is no longer in danger of extinction, nor likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.” (Unfortunately, that is not true).
Comments went crazy. In fact, the lizard fight was described as a war, with a spokesperson from Wildearth Guardians stating: “We hope the
Secretary and the Fish and Wildlife Service weren’t badgered into withdrawing the listing proposal by Representative Pearce (Republican from New Mexico) and the oil and gas industry, who have declared a jihad against a 3-inch lizard.”
Delaying or completely stopping the lizard listing means that the habitats the lizard lives in are free for oil and gas interests to continue, which means saving jobs while harming the habitat. Although there were conservation agreements made between oil and gas companies and ranchers in New Mexico that were designed to do their best to avoid disturbing the lizard’s habitat while at the same time continuing to develop said habitat. If this sounds like an impossibility…it is.
Skip ahead to February, 2014. The lizard fight has not gone away. Texas oil drillers had to deal with a continued battle regarding leaving the dunes sagebrush lizard habitat alone. Now, the lizard is one of those rare creatures that is dead center in an area where oil wells mean jobs. Oil wells and drilling mean gas prices lower, etc. – a fight between the ‘green’ community and the oil biz that has been going on for centuries, as the world attempts to do their very best to turn to alternative energy.
It is a high stakes game…with the lizard sitting right in the middle. Defenders of the Wildlife Center for Biological Diversity stated that the Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew its proposed listing of the dunes sagebrush lizard improperly, which meant the fight should continue. Unfortunately, just this week, the judgment was passed:
U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras backed up the FWS and stated that the Service examined the conservation measures in place and determined that they would be effective and would continue to eliminate threats to the lizard. He went on to state that, “If the measures prove ineffective, the FWS is free to revisit its decision and list the lizard as endangered.”
In other words, the dunes sagebrush lizard loses out…again, as the oil industry goes merrily along…again.