Agency cooperation keeps dunes sagebrush lizard off ESA list
July 05, 2012 | 02:29 PM
The Interior Department’s recent announcement that the dunes sagebrush lizard will not need to be listed under the Endangered Species Act is due to landowner conservation agreements and cooperation between Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Agriculture Department’s Natural Resources Conservation Service under the Obama administration, officials have told The Hagstrom Report.
“This is a great example of how states and landowners can take early, landscape-level action to protect wildlife habitat before a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on June 13 when he announced that Interior had withdrawn a proposed rule to list the lizard.
“The voluntary conservation efforts of Texas and New Mexico, oil and gas operators, private landowners and other stakeholders show that we don’t have to choose between energy development and the protection of our land and wildlife — we can do both,” Salazar said.
State-led voluntary conservation efforts to protect existing shinnery oak dune habitat and greatly reduce the impact of oil and gas development across the species’ range now cover over 650,000 acres in New Mexico and Texas, totaling 88 percent of the lizard’s habitat, Interior said in a news release. These measures also minimize the anticipated impacts of other threats, such as off-road vehicle traffic, wind and solar development, and increased predation caused by development, the agency added.
“The states of New Mexico and Texas have worked tirelessly with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and scores of landowners and operators in the Permian Basin to conserve and protect habitat that supports the dunes sagebrush lizard and many other species,” added Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “These ongoing efforts will play a key role in ensuring the future of the lizard, while allowing responsible oil and gas development to continue.”
New information provided by the BLM and Texas A&M University has enabled the service to refine mapping of suitable and occupied shinnery oak dune habitat in New Mexico and Texas and identified more known occupied sites for the lizard, especially in Texas, Ashe said.
Texas NRCS state biologist Russell Castro also played a role in the process by serving on Texas Comptroller Susan Comb’s Task Force that developed the Texas Conservation Plan for the dunes sagebrush lizard.
In an email to members of the task force, Combs said, “This decision was made possible in large part to the fact that Texas had an approved conservation agreement, the Texas Conservation Plan (TCP), and over 200,000 acres enrolled under the plan.”