It’s the dunes sagebrush lizard – known as Sceloporous arenicolus in scientific terms — and the reptile has become the centerpiece of a fight between environmentalists who want to see it put on the endangered species list and supporters of oil and natural gas interests who fear federal protection for a creature so hard to find that almost nobody in the Oil Patch has ever even seen one could shut down an industry vital to the New Mexico economy.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service says the dunes sagebrush lizard is in danger of extinction in southeast New Mexico and parts of west Texas. Last December, the agency proposed listing the lizard under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which would give the reptile federal protection.
But the lizard’s habitat includes a large portion of land — much of it on federal property — that is leased by oil and gas companies and some people in the area fear that aggressive enforcement of the Endangered Species Act would threaten their means of making a living.
Rep. Steve Pearce (R-New Mexico) of the US House of Representatives is leading the charge against placing the lizard on the endangered species list. “Most of the oil and gas jobs in southeast New Mexico are at risk,” Pearce told the Carlsbad Current-Argus in an article published April 18. “In the ’70s, they listed the spotted owl as endangered and it killed the entire timber industry.”
Pearce has spoken at numerous town halls in Carlsbad and Eddy County arguing that federal protection of the dunes sagebrush lizard could impact the area’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) as well as potash mining and agriculture.
But Horning responds by saying, “We don’t want to cause the extinction of a species. Once again, Steve Pearce is stepping in and trying to have politics trump the science. And the science is clear. Oil and gas development and herbicide spraying have degraded the species’ habitats to such that it’s in deep peril.”
The US Fish and Wildlife Service will hold a public hearing on the issue in Roswell on April 28 at 6:30 p.m. Pearce says he’ll hold a rally at 5 p.m. on that date at the Great Southwest Aviation Airport Hangar