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Dunes sagebrush saga could come again even if not listed  

For the few who participate in the agreements, the restrictions include a moratorium on working the land from March to October and the inability to use windmills on the lizard’s habitat, Wight said.

Credit:  By Gabriella Lopez | www.oaoa.com 17 June 2012 ~~

A little lizard is stepping out of the spotlight after a recent decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to keep the dunes sagebrush lizard off the Endangered Species List.

It was a move that relieved many West Texans and drew consternation from environmental groups, who believe the listing was warranted.

“We’re 100 percent sure it was a poor decision. The question is, was it an illegal decision?” Jay Tuchton, WildEarth Guardians general counsel, said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Wednesday that the dunes sagebrush lizard, a creature whose shinnery oak dune habitat is found only in West Texas and eastern New Mexico, would not be added to the Endangered Species List.

Some residents and oil and gas industry members had worried that listing the lizard would impact production and subsequently the local economies since some of the lizard’s habitat could be found on land owned by oil and gas companies.

Currently, WildEarth Guardians is researching whether the decision was within the law, and a

second environmental advocacy group called the Center for Biological Diversity stated it was considering whether it would take legal action regarding the lizard.

Should the voluntary “candidate conservation agreements with assurances” currently offered to New Mexico and West Texas landowners prove unsuccessful in maintaining the lizard’s numbers and habitat, Tutchton said that years down the line they might consider petitioning U.S. Fish and Wildlife to consider re-listing the lizard for its protection.

“We would have to start over again,” Tuchton said.

Devon Energy has enrolled over 75,000 acres across the lizard’s range in Texas and New Mexico, representative Chip Minty said.

“Devon has been an active supporter (of conservation), it’s been important to us,” Minty said.

While Midland-based Summit Petroleum, LLC does not have land in the lizard’s habitat and therefore did not sign up for a candidate conservation agreement with assurances, Chairman Dennis Johnson said that they care for the environment in other ways.

The company purchased several ranches on the lands where they work and do things like provide water for local wildlife, Johnson said.

“We support conservation efforts,” Johnson said.

Although many environmental groups view the decision as an example of politicizing scientific data, some local communities and individuals received the news with varying degrees of satisfaction.

After spearheading an unsuccessful fall 2011 petition against designating the lizard, Andrews Chamber of Commerce Executive Julia Wallace seemed happy about the final decision.

“It’s largely due to the people in West Texas,” Wallace said, explaining that many people in the area did their “due diligence” and followed up on the science to determine that the lizard did not need to be listed as an endangered species.

Standing between the opposite reactions of largely thrilled oil and gas industry members and the disgruntled environmentalists are many ranchers, who, while satisfied at the lack of listing, are disappointed in the resulting conservation measures, however voluntary.

“(Texas Comptroller Susan Combs) didn’t

ask any of the local ranchers,” Goldsmith Rancher Schuyler Wight said, explaining that there was only one rancher – Bobby McKnight with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association – on the committee that negotiated Texas’ conservation plan regarding the lizard.

Wight said the voluntary conservation agreements offered to landowners impacted by the lizard’s habitat make near impossible demands of ranchers.

For the few who participate in the agreements, the restrictions include a moratorium on working the land from March to October and the inability to use windmills on the lizard’s habitat, Wight said.

Wight said that since the scientific data didn’t support a listing anyway, Combs shouldn’t have negotiated conservation measures.

If the conservation agreements hadn’t been put on the table, Wight said U.S. Fish and Wildlife would come to the realization that science didn’t support the listing and the lizard would have been listed without any agreements at all.

However, U.S. Fish and Wildlife stated in a news release that the commitments to voluntary conservation agreements helped determine the lizard’s lack of listing.

Texas Comptroller press secretary Kevin Lyons said conservation plans were a necessary part of the process, just in case the lizard was listed.

“We wanted a safety net,” Lyons said.

Since the plan is voluntary, anyone who disagrees with the plan or dislikes it is not required to participate, Lyons said.

Throughout the decision-making process, politicians representing the area lobbied against the lizard’s potential

listing through various methods, including attempting to pass laws in Congress.

They have now turned their focus on something that would impact listing species in future: the Endangered Species Act.

The second hearing,

in what U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Washington) hopes will be a series of them, is scheduled Tuesday to address the impact of litigation on taxpayers and the Endangered Species Act.

It was a lawsuit for inaction from WildEarth Guardians that led to U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposing the lizard’s listing in 2007.

In fact, that lawsuit

proposed listing 250 other species, 21 of which live in Texas, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson stated in a news release.

However, the lawsuit could not be located Friday and the 21 species were not listed.

Sam Ray, spokesman for Congressman Mike Cona­way, said he was not sure whether Conaway would attend the Tuesday hearing, which on the whole, Tutchton dismissed.

Lawsuits like theirs force the government to take action on whether or not to protect a species, Tutchton said.

“These aren’t frivolous lawsuits,” Tutchton said.

Source:  By Gabriella Lopez | www.oaoa.com 17 June 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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