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Conservation Groups Sue Over Sagebrush Lizard

Conservation groups are suing to secure federal protections for a reptile that makes its home among the sand dunes in west Texas and southeast New Mexico.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife filed the lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in federal district court. They want the agency to add the dunes sagebrush lizard to the endangered species list because oil and gas drilling in the Permian Basin threaten its habitat.

“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, FWS is required to evaluate the petition and issue a 90-day finding indicating whether listing may be warranted. If the initial finding is positive, FWS must decide whether it intends to list the species within 12 months. The FWS 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 FWS finally proposed listing it as endangered. The agency 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.

FWS was given 60 days to respond in order to avoid litigation.