U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moves to designate the dunes sagebrush lizard as endangered
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to designate the dunes sagebrush lizard as an endangered species.
For years, environmental advocates have called on the federal agency to protect the two-inch lizard that makes its home in the oil fields of New Mexico and West Texas.
Now, the Fish and Wildlife Service is going through the process of listing the desert lizard as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
“The Endangered Species Act provides a critical safety net for imperiled species like the dunes sagebrush lizard,” Shawn Sartorius, a field supervisor with the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a press release on Friday. “Habitat loss and fragmentation as well as climate change are pushing this rare species closer to extinction.”
In the agency’s proposal, the Fish and Wildlife Service identified the oil and gas industry as the primary threat to the species, saying industry growth is leading to the destruction and fragmentation of the lizard’s habitat.
The dunes sagebrush lizard makes its home in the Permian Basin, the most prolific oil field in the country, where vast oil and gas operations across the region produce over 5 million barrels of oil a day.
As it has boomed over the years, the industry has broken up or altogether destroyed the ecosystem the dunes sagebrush lizard relies on to survive, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency now estimates “the dunes sagebrush lizard is functionally extinct across 47 percent of its range.”
However, Republican U.S. Congressman August Pfluger, an industry advocate representing the Midland-Odessa area, rejects the idea that the lizard needs further protection. In a written statement, Pfluger claimed President Biden is “weaponizing a lizard against the livelihoods of Texans to destroy an entire industry and our nation’s energy security.”
The conservative lawmaker has been concerned about the Biden administration using the Endangered Species Act to limit oil and gas production. Pfluger has previously introduced legislation he’s said will prevent “overbearing regulations coming from Washington D.C.”
Michael Robinson, senior conservation advocate with the Center of Biological Diversity, says that perspective isn’t accurate.
“The truth is that the oil and gas industry is poised to drive the dunes sagebrush lizard extinct,” he said. “The last homes of the dune sagebrush lizard need to be protected now.”
According to Robinson, the federal government’s proposal shouldn’t cause that much trouble for the oil and gas industry if it’s approved.
“It's important to realize that the dunes sagebrush lizard doesn't occupy all that much land even before its habitat was severely altered and so much of it destroyed,” Robinson said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking for public input on its proposal to designate the dunes sagebrush lizard as endangered. The 60-day comment period is open until Sept. 1.