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One Little Lizard, One Big Argument

The dunes sagebrush lizard, whose habitat is part of West Texas oilfields, lost an important fight two weeks ago. In a decision wildly criticized by environmental groups in Texas, and across the country, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to not add the lizard to the endangered species list. Though this particular ruling on a small lizard in West Texas might seem insignificant in the greater scheme of things, in actuality it could be a warning of future decisions and what may come if we continue on the path of environmental irresponsibility.

The oil and gas industry could not be more thrilled with the decision and now have a green light to continue their drilling and extracting in the vulnerable habitat of the dune sagebrush.

Environmentalists have expressed their frustration. Mark Salvo, wildlife program director for the environmental group WildEarth Guardians said in the Texas Tribune on June 13th:

This is an unfortunate decision. [...] There is no species more deserving of federal protection than the dunes sagebrush lizard. Existing conservation measures, particularly in Texas, are so weak that I fear the species may become extirpated in parts of its remaining range.

Without the protection as an endangered species the dune sagebrush will have to be protected with only voluntary conservation efforts. Many fear that these inadequate protections will not be strong enough to protect this lizard and fear that future extinction is possible. The Center for Biological Diversity, who are considering legal action, released a statement blasting the decision: 

Today’s decision relies heavily on voluntary agreements to conserve the lizard’s tiny habitat — making up just 2 percent of Permian Basin oil and gas lands — even though there is no guarantee the agreements will ever be implemented or that they would be effective at saving the lizard from extinction, particularly once the threat of Endangered Species Act protection has been removed. Meanwhile, oil and gas development, livestock grazing and road construction continue to fragment and destroy what’s left of the lizard’s fragile habitat.

This little lizard could be an important indicator of the future of our environment. If the decisions regarding our environment continue to be made politically instead of scientifically, the dunes sagebrush lizard will certainly not be the last dispute we will see regarding matters of this nature.