WASHINGTON - As a result of unprecedented commitments to voluntary conservation agreements now in place in New Mexico and Texas that provide for the long-term conservation of the dunes sagebrush lizard, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the species does not need to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.
State-led voluntary conservation efforts to protect existing shinnery oak dune habitat and greatly reduce the impact of oil and gas development across the species' range now cover over 650,000 acres in New Mexico and Texas, totaling 88 percent of the lizard's habitat. These measures also minimize the anticipated impacts of other threats, such as off-road vehicle traffic, wind and solar development, and increased predation caused by development.
After a careful analysis of the scientific data and the protections provided by the voluntary conservation efforts, Service biologists determined the lizard is no longer in danger of extinction, nor likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
The Service will closely monitor the conservation measures to ensure they are being implemented and effectively address identified threats. The Service can reevaluate whether the dunes sagebrush lizard requires Endangered Species Act protection. (from the press release, Department of the Interior, 13 June 2012)
A year ago, John Cornyn (R-TX) and Steve Pearce (R-NM) tried to stop listing of the dunes sagebrush lizard. In December, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service delayed its final decision for 6 months. I hope that the Service's decision reflects scientific evidence indicating that because of the conservation agreements reached, the lizard is no longer in danger of extinction.
The final determination (PDF) doesn't make me rest easy. The first peer review comment pointed out that the narrow range and specific ecological requirements make the lizard particularly susceptible to extinction. The Service's response:
While having a small geographic range and specialized habitat may make a species more susceptible to threats, we have determined the dunes sagebrush lizard does not meet the definition of an endangered or threatened species because the previous threats have been alleviated. (emphasis added)The question isn't whether the previous threats have been alleviated. I'm willing to believe the Service when they tell me they have been. The question is whether the species is in danger of extinction, because of its narrow geographical range and specialized requirements. I can't say whether it is or it isn't, because I don't know anything about the lizard, but I worry that the Service's decision depends on shifting the baseline, taking the status quo as OK when it may already represent a degraded condition in which the lizard is likely to go extinct.