The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has put off a decision on whether to declare the dunes sagebrush lizard, which lives in West Texas and eastern New Mexico, an endangered species.
Instead, the agency plans on getting a six-month extension to gather more scientific evidence and public comments, according to a statement released today.
Bill Hammond, president and chief executive of the Texas Association of Business, pronounced himself "pleased" with the decision. He said in a statement that he hoped the delay "will end with a decision that will not severely impact jobs and job creation in West Texas."
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who has argued that there is insufficient data on the lizard’s population to declare it endangered, also cheered the delay in a statement released by the Texas Land Office today.
“The federal government’s call for actual evidence that this lizard is in danger means they are listening to us,” Patterson said. “This is good news, because this proposed listing hasn’t been based on science.”
But Ken Kramer, director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, said he was concerned that political pressures were behind the decision to delay; several congressmen have spoken against making the lizard an endangered species.
“If the decision to delay was a response to political pressure, that’s unfortunate,” Kramer said. “If the decision to delay was to gather more scientific evidence … then that could have a positive outcome.”
The dunes sagebrush lizard is tiny — less than 3 inches long — but it has stirred up considerable controversy. West Texans fear that listing the lizard as endangered could harm the oil, gas and cattle industries. The lizard lives in the shinnery oak, and the Fish and Wildlife Service has said that drilling threatens the lizard’s habitat, as does the removal of oak for grazing.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking comments from interested parties; the 45-day comment period begins on Dec. 5.