Feds’ Refusal to Protect Rare Dunes Sagebrush Lizard Challenged in Court

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Texas Plan for Lizard Not Released to Feds or Public, Yet Feds Approved

WASHINGTON (March 14, 2013) — The state of Texas won’t let the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service review its agreements with local landowners detailing specific protections for the dunes sagebrush lizard, but the agency nonetheless declined to list the lizard as endangered because it says Texas’ protections are adequate. In response, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the FWS over its decision last year not to protect the lizard under the Endangered Species Act.

"As President Reagan said, ‘trust but verify.’ Not only is the Fish and Wildlife Service unable to verify what Texas landowners have done to protect the lizard, it doesn’t even know what they said they would do in their agreements,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of Defenders of Wildlife.

In 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to protect the lizard as endangered but withdrew the proposal 18 months later, arguing in part that a conservation agreement with Texas made a listing unnecessary. That agreement only vaguely describes the conservation actions required of participants under the agreement, leaving concrete conservation measures to be spelled out in certificates between each participant and the state of Texas. But Texas has prevented federal wildlife officials or any member of the public from reviewing these certificates, leaving scientists in the dark as to what actual measures are being taken to protect the lizard.

Not only are the specific conservation measures unknown, but the agency won’t even be able to verify that they’re being implemented. Despite this knowledge gap and lack of transparency, the Fish and Wildlife Service on June 12, 2012 concluded that the lizard was adequately protected and did not warrant federal protection.

“With the survival of the dunes sagebrush lizard hanging by a thread, the Fish and Wildlife Service should not have relied on paper-thin promises from the Texas Comptroller’s Office to deny protection to this disappearing animal,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This kind of baldly political decision was commonplace under the Bush administration, but is deeply disappointing from President Obama.”

The lizard was first identified as a candidate for protection in late 2001; the Center filed to protect the lizard the following year. Despite the fact that the species had been identified as needing protection for more than a decade, the state of Texas took no action until after the species was proposed for protection in 2010.

The dunes sagebrush lizard is a small, brown lizard that buries itself in sand to avoid predators and regulate its body temperature. Considered one the nation’s most-imperiled lizards, it has a very small and increasingly fragmented range in southeastern New Mexico and west Texas, where it is threatened by ongoing oil and gas drilling and herbicide spraying for livestock grazing.

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Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.organd follow us on Twitter @DefendersNews.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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