Monday, December 5, 2011

Extension granted on lizard's endangered listing

The word “lizard” has been stressing some West Texans, but opponents of the dunes sagebrush lizard’s proposed Endangered Species listing can relax — at least for another six months.

The final decision on the lizard’s listing status was scheduled to be announced any day now, but instead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it will grant a six month extension to allow for additional scientific research and a reopened comment period of an additional 45 days.

“It’s very uncommon, but it has happened,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Public Information Specialist Tom Buckley said.

The extension will be officially published in the Federal Register on Dec. 5.

While no public hearings have been planned, Buckley said that they’ll evaluate the need for one depending on whether they get requests.

I’m ecstatic that Fish and Wildlife sees that there’s substantial disagreement in the data,” Kirk Edwards, past president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, said.

But not everyone sees the extension as a good thing.

The delay is merely caving to the demands of the oil and gas industry, Center for Biological Diversity representative Noah Greenwald said.

There’s no legitimate dispute about the science,” Greenwald said.

Some of the lizard’s opponents have cited the unknown number of lizards as cause for concern, but Greenwald said that the exact number of lizards can never be determined.

“There’s no way to get an accurate count,” Greenwald said.

Looking at the limited habitat and threats to a creature helps determine whether it is endangered, Greenwald said.

The lizard’s shinnery oak sand-dune habitat exists in six counties in Texas and can be found on 197,115 acres, less than five percent of all lands in the six counties, a Center for Biological Diversity report stated.

The report, based on research by Texas A&M Chief Curator Lee Fitzgerald, stated the habitat exists on 9,869 acres of state-owned and asset lands where oil and gas extraction produces royalties for local government, and can also be found on 550,00 acres in southeastern New Mexico.

The report claims that the habitat has declined by more than 40 percent since 1982.

So the delay to the listing has nothing to do with the data, Greenwald said.

“It’s basically just trying to push politics into a scientific decision,” Greenwald said.

Many West Texans
made their voices heard with impassioned arguments against the listing at the initial public hearings in the spring, and that combined with lobbying by ranching and oil and gas industry advocates led politicians to seek to delay the lizard’s listing.

Previously, there were several attempts by U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Midland) to introduce amendments addressing the issue of the lizard and the Lesser Prairie Chicken as well as funding for all new endangered species listings, but those were unsuccessful.

Conaway and U.S. Reps. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs), Francisco Canseco (R-San Antonio) and Randy Neugebauer (R-Lubbock) then submitted a letter Nov. 1 urging the Appropriations Committee to adopt an amendment bringing a yearlong pause to the listing process, although Conaway admitted then it was unlikely there would be an opportunity for the Committee to vote on the amendment.

Most recently, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) sent a letter Wednesday to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe requesting the six-month delay.

The next day the extension was announced.

Delaying the decision for no more than six months, in the event of “substantial disagreement” concerning the “sufficiency or accuracy” of the available data, was one of three actions U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to take within one year of a proposed listing, according to an email from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The other two actions are finalizing the listing or withdrawing the listing.

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