The lizard won’t get listed after all.
After nearly two years of back and forth among environmentalists, oil and gas industry supporters and politicians on Capitol Hill, the US Fish and Wildlife Service ruled on Wednesday (June 13) that the dunes sagebrush lizard will not be placed on the federal government’s endangered species list.
In a news release, the Fish and Wildlife Service declared, “After a careful analysis of the scientific data and the protections provided by the voluntary conservation efforts, Service biologists determined the lizard is no longer in danger of extinction, nor likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.”
“My goal is to implement a 21st Century conservation agenda, and when I see 600,000 acres plus, and I see most of the lizard habitat protected, that is a major victory for conservation,” US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said. “This is the right thing for conservation, and the right thing for the economy.”
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico), who led the fight against the listing and ended up gaining support from congressmen and senators from New Mexico’s neighboring state of Texas called the decision a victory for the people in the Permian Basin and New Mexico’s Oil Patch, the habitat for lizard.
“While it was a long and emotional process, in the end, Washington listened, and the lizard will not be listed,” Pearce said through a news release. “This is a huge victory for the people who have tirelessly fought to save regional jobs and our way of life. I extend my gratitude to the New Mexicans who came to the table, and through good faith efforts, voluntarily protected the lizard’s habitat.”
Environmental groups, who have battled Pearce toe-to-toe over the listing, were naturally disappointed.
“We hope the Secretary and the Fish and Wildlife Service weren’t badgered into withdrawing the listing proposal by Representative Pearce and the oil and gas industry, who have declared a jihad against a 3-inch lizard,” said Mark Salvo of WildEarth Guardians said.
Wednesday’s decision does not mean oil and gas interests have free rein over the habitat. Rather, a series of conservation agreements agreed to by 29 oil and gas companies and 39 ranchers in New Mexico are designed to avoid disturbing the lizard’s habitat while still allowing for development. Once given formal approval, landowners will receive assurances that no additional conservation steps above and beyond those contained in the agreement will be required.
While Pearce is a conservative Republican whom environmentalists consider an arch-enemy, even New Mexico Democrats Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall — who pride themselves on their environmental records — joined Pearce in getting the feds to delay the endangered species listing and earlier this year called on Interior and Fish and Wildlife to agree to adopting conservation agreements with oil and gas producers.
The Fish and Wildlife Services decision comes as the Obama Administration has come under fire for high gasoline prices and accusations that it is anti-energy.
Last month, Interior Secretary Salazar hailed a decision that approved a plan by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. to sink more than 3,500 natural gas wells in eastern Utah, after the company agreed to environmental safeguards that aim to protect the local air and water.