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Update on Federal Protection for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard

by Transect Team, on Jul 20, 2020

On July 16th, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced their 12-month plan to determine whether listing the dunes sagebrush lizard (DSL) under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is warranted. Early findings suggest that species protection may be warranted because of threats related to oil and gas, sand mining, climate change, and inadequate existing regulatory mechanisms.

This is not the first time DSL has been up for protection. USFWS first proposed listing the lizard under the ESA in 2010, but then declined to list the species in 2012 after a regional conservation plan was approved. The conservation plan allowed industries like oil and gas to voluntarily pay a mitigation fee in return for coverage from prosecution under the ESA if the lizard ever received formal protection and the industry activity impacted the species. The conservation plan was deemed ineffective, and it was formally rescinded in December of 2018.

In May 2018, environmental groups had petitioned USFWS to again consider federal protection for the lizard. In October 2019, those groups sued USFWS for delaying a response to the petition. This week’s announcements are a result of the May settlement of that lawsuit, in which USFWS agreed to decide by the end of June whether it would formally consider the environmental groups’ petition.

This week, at the same time the USFWS announced they are again considering federal protection for the lizard, USFWS announced their intention to prepare another conservation plan, which will be available to oil and gas exploration and development, sand mining, renewable energy development and operations, pipeline construction and operations, agricultural activities, general construction activities, and species research.

Similar to its predecessor, the newly proposed conservation plan (the technical name of which is a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances) gives participants the opportunity to pay a mitigation fee and, as long as they implement certain conservation practices, if the species eventually received federal protection, they can continue with their current activities with no threat of prosecution under the ESA.

This lizard has been at the center of political debate between environmental groups and the energy industry for most of the last decade, and resolution is a long way out.

Transect has the latest and greatest range and occurrence data for the lizard. If you have any concerns about DSL on your west Texas or eastern New Mexico project, come on over to Transect and get your first report free.

Topics:Endangered Species Act