24 April 2013 A Small Lizard with a Big Problem Posted by: William Lutz | Leave a comment | Share: Will Lutz, Senior Director of Communications It may be small in stature, but the dunes sagebrush lizard could have a big say in how this country protects endangered species. That’s because this little lizard finds itself at the epicenter of a key fight over how to best to enlist states and private parties as partners in species conservation. It all comes down to one question: how can you say a creature will be protected if you don’t know what measures will be taken to protect it? Dune sagebrush lizard (©Mark L. Watson) You see, in late 2010, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) concluded that the dunes sagebrush lizard warranted listing as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Since the lizard makes its home in oil-rich counties in Texas and neighboring New Mexico, locals immediately feared that listing the lizard would interfere with drilling operations. So these two states quickly started talking to stakeholders with an eye toward finding ways to avoid listing the lizard. Texas, for example, helped craft what’s known as a “candidate conservation agreement with assurances” (CCAA) that would enlist landowners in conservation efforts and possibly preclude the need to formally list the lizard. And when they were done, they basically said, “we got this covered, no need to list the lizard.” Problem is, Texas won’t share any details from those landowner agreements so FWS doesn’t know exactly how they intend to protect the lizard. FWS won’t even be allowed to monitor the lizard’s progress. But it gets even weirder. Even after having the door shut in their face, FWS said, “Ok, that’s good enough for us,” and declared the lizard didn’t to be listed as endangered after all. Huh? Texas won’t tell you how the lizard will be protected and yet you turn around and say Texas’ protections are enough? Seemed strange to us too, so Defenders dug deeper. In a March report [PDF], Defenders describes in painstaking detail the serious problems with the FWS relying on the Texas agreement to support its decision. We also recommend eight specific improvements to ESA policy to address these and other problems, so they are not repeated in future listing decisions for candidate species. Some of these improvements can be implemented before FWS decides whether to list a candidate species, while others can be done as part of the actual listing decision for maximum flexibility. Defenders has also turned to the courts for help in holding FWS accountable for this disastrous decision, filing an early-March notice of our intent to sue if FWS’ decision stands. Agreements between states and private landowners can be extremely valuable when it comes to protecting at-risk species, but what the FWS has agreed to here just doesn’t fit the bill. And with listing decisions for several high-profile species around the corner, the fate of the little dunes sagebrush lizard could well determine the fate of many others critters on the brink. Post Your Comment Click here to cancel reply. Name (required) Mail (required) (will not be published) You May also be interested in Wolf Weekly Wrap-Up Helicopter gunning kills 23 wolves in Idaho; Urge Secretary Jewell to abandon gray wolf delisting proposal — Call your representative by March 14; Washington wildlife agency urged to end support for abolishing federal wolf protections; The latest on Governor Otter’s wolf control board. Two Too Many Development Projects in the Ivanpah Valley While these projects most definitely directly impact a species that has been identified as threatened and is dependent on the habitat where they would be built, Silver State South and Stateline’s approval is most troubling for a bigger reason. You see, this isn’t just an issue for the Ivanpah Valley. Developers and agencies need to be conscious of how and where they plan energy projects all across the country. They need to look at renewable energy planning with a landscape-wide lens, understanding that building in the right places and making an effort to minimize environmental impacts from the start are essential. California’s Rim Fire: Opportunities Rise from the Ashes After California’s devastating Rim Fire, will officials take the opportunity to give nature a chance to fully recover?