WASHINGTON, D.C. — Conservation groups filed a lawsuit in federal district court Tuesday challenging the Trump administration’s continued failure to protect severely imperiled dunes sagebrush lizards under the Endangered Species Act.
The groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) to list the species as threatened or endangered in May 2018. The agency had 90 days to determine whether the petition showed the lizard could warrant listing, and if so, initiate a status review. The government has failed to take any action since the 2018 petition and the lizard remains without federal protection.
“We will not allow the dunes sagebrush lizard to be further victimized by political delay,” said Jason Rylander, senior counsel at Defenders of Wildlife. “It’s past time for the Trump administration to listen to the science and take the necessary steps to protect this rare species.”
The dunes sagebrush lizard lives in the rolling white sand dunes of southeastern New Mexico and west Texas. The Center for Biological Diversity first petitioned for its protection in 2002. This led to a 2010 finding by the Service that the species warranted protection because of threats from oil and gas drilling and habitat destruction.
In 2012, the Service denied the lizard protection after pressure from the oil and gas industry and a hastily drafted and insufficient conservation plan by then-Texas Comptroller Susan Combs.
“Oil and gas drilling continues to destroy dunes sagebrush lizard habitat and is threatening its survival,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center. “The Trump administration needs to stop taking orders from the fossil fuel industry and protect the lizard before it’s too late.”
The Service accepted the inadequate conservation plan from Combs despite the fact that its conservation measures were considered confidential by the state of Texas and the Service was not allowed to see them.
Combs’ lizard plan was so ineffective at conserving habitat that in December 2018, current Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar formally rescinded it.
The now-defunct plan did not even address the growing threat of frac sand mining. Although a new conservation plan is reportedly in development, the Service has not approved it. It is unclear whether the plan would be adequate to protect the species.
Combs, who once compared endangered species listings to an incoming Scud missile, is now an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of the Interior.