The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday announced a six-month delay on its final determination to place the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, colloquially known as the Sand Dune Lizard, on the Endangered Species List.
Mundane on its surface, the proposed listing — previously set for December — has implications for tens of thousands of jobs. The little lizard inhabits one of the country’s top energy producing regions in western Texas and eastern New Mexico, and its listing on the Endangered Species List could shut down oil and gas production in the area for two to five years.
Republican Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and James Inhofe of Oklahoma penned a letter Wednesday to FWS Director Dan Ashe. Citing numerous disputes over the scientific data, the pair urged Ashe to provide the scientific community more time to complete their research.
“In our view, the proposed listing of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard is not supported by adequate population viability evidence. Rather, it is based on a survey methodology (known as ‘presence/absence’ surveys) that does not yield reliable population numbers or reliable information on population viability,” they wrote.
“The ‘absence’ of DSL when a site with a historic ‘presence’ finding is resurveyed does not warrant a conclusion that DSL are not present. The data shows that DSL–which often retreat underground as a defense mechanism — may be detected on some days, but not on others, during presence/absence surveys. Moreover, recent presence/absence surveys continue to find DSL in new locations,” Cornyn and Inhofe wrote.
FWS is complying with their wishes.
Cornyn, who has been working on the issue with area stakeholders, cheered the decision.
“I am pleased Director Ashe has listened to the concerns about the level and accuracy of data surrounding the lizard in Texas,” Cornyn said. “It’s essential that the job creators who will be directly impacted have the opportunity to have their concerns heard before this potentially devastating listing goes forward.”
Inhofe expressed a similar sentiment, applauding the decision, but noting that there are other areas FWS should consider looking into.
“This will give the scientific community more time to evaluate thoughtfully the biological health of the species as well as the significant efforts underway by local, state and private stakeholders to preserve and increase Dunes Sagebrush Lizard populations,” said Inhofe.“The Service should make similar decisions on other controversial proposed listings with significant voluntary public-private preservation efforts such as the Lesser Prairie Chicken.”