Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Small lizard may cause big headache - further update

It wasn't too hard for the Fish and Wildlife Service to decide the fate of 92 freshwater snails, 17 dragonflies or more than 500 other species over the past year. But when it comes to the dunes sagebrush lizard, trouble looms.
The small spiny reptile seeks refuge from the hot sun and potential predators in the shinnery oak dunes of southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. Ranchers have been clearing the oak shrubs, and oil and gas companies are drilling in the dunes. If the lizard is designated as an endangered species, some of those activities could be in jeopardy.
The lizard's future is among the first in a series of wrenching tests threatening what has been a yearlong cease-fire in the war over endangered-species listings.
Since two environmental groups reached landmark settlement agreements last year with the Fish and Wildlife Service, the government has resolved dozens of long-standing cases. State and industry officials who spent years largely resisting conservation efforts are now scrambling to protect imperiled species in hope of keeping them off the federal endangered-species list.
But now the Obama administration must decide whether to provide federal protection to a handful of animals that share their habitat with oil and gas rigs, cattle and wind turbines. And groups on both sides of the debate are skeptical of whether federal officials can make fair decisions -- several of which will have ramifications for swing states in the West -- in a presidential election year.
"Clearly the notion that there's a truce is very fragile," said Defenders of Wildlife President Jamie Rappaport Clark, who headed the Fish and Wildlife Service under President Bill Clinton.
According to last year's settlements, WildEarth Guardians agreed to curtail its petitions and lawsuits aimed at the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Center for Biological Diversity agreed to space out its litigation, in exchange for a commitment that the agency will issue protection decisions for 841 plants and animals.
"This settlement gave us the breathing room to really focus on conservation, which is really what the [Endangered Species Act] is about," Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe said. "We're really able to focus our conservation effort."

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/05/06/3940018/small-lizard-may-cause-big-headache.html#storylink=cpy

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