Conservation groups filed a notice today of their intent to sue the Trump administration for failing to protect the severely imperiled dunes sagebrush lizard under the Endangered Species Act.
The groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the species as threatened or endangered in May 2018. The petition also requested that the Fish and Wildlife Service designate critical habitat for the lizards because thousands of acres where they live are at risk from oil and gas drilling and sand-mining projects in Texas and New Mexico.
“The dunes sagebrush lizard has long been in need of Endangered Species Act protection and new threats from frac sand mining are only compounding the problem,” said Jason Rylander, senior counsel at Defenders of Wildlife. “Listing the dunes sagebrush lizard is a key first step toward conserving this species.”
Under the law, the Service is required to evaluate the petition and issue a 90-day finding indicating whether listing may be warranted. If the initial finding is positive, the Service must decide whether it intends to list the species within 12 months. The Service has now missed both deadlines, and the lizard remains without federal protection.
“These imperiled lizards have declined terribly because of documented interference and shenanigans by Susan Combs while she was a Texas official,” said Chris Nagano, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Now Combs is helping run the Interior Department and pushing wildlife around the country toward extinction.”
The lizard has been a candidate for listing since 1982, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the Fish and Wildlife Service finally proposed listing it as endangered. The Service then declined to list the species in 2012 after approving a hastily designed Texas Conservation Plan developed by then Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Susan Combs.
But that plan was so ineffective in conserving lizard habitat that the current Comptroller Glenn Hegar in December 2018 formally rescinded it. The now-defunct Texas Conservation Plan also did not address the growing threat of frac sand mining. Although a new conservation plan is reportedly in development, the Service has yet to approve it and it is not at all clear that the plan will be adequate to protect the species.
The Service now has 60 days to respond in order to avoid litigation.