Feds propose listing Texas lizard as endangered

The Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting comments until Oct. 2 on proposal to put the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard on the endangered species list

The endangered Dunes Sagebrush lizard lives in a small area of west Texas and New Mexico

The Dunes Sagebrush Lizard spends its days roaming the dry land of Southeast New Mexico and West Texas, hiding in the cool depths of desert sand dunes where, like many of us this summer, it tries to escape extreme heat. Shinnery oaks that cover the dunes provide this precious lizard with protection, shade, and breeding grounds, where it feasts on insects, or gets feasted on by vipers, unaware that it has arguably become the most controversial lizard in the United States.

The Dunes Sagebrush Lizard has historically thrived in the Permian Basin, one of the largest oil and natural gas reservoirs in the United States, but for decades, it has faced numerous threats to its habitat. The sand dunes it resides in are being mined for fracking operations, while oil wells disturb these extremely sensitive creatures. The shinnery oaks that these lizards rely on are being wiped out with herbicide for cattle grazing. However, after over 20 years of conservationists urging to list this lizard as a threatened animal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard as an endangered species on June 30th, 2023.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife report concluded that only 6% of the lizard’s habitat range is in high condition while in 47% of the region, the lizards are “functionally extinct”. Any animal listed as endangered is entitled to federal protection, and beyond prohibiting the hunting and killing of these animals, critical habitat is also protected. If these lizards and their habitat are protected, oil and gas companies and ranchers in a sliver of the Permian Basin will have to take steps to prevent harm.

Current range of the dunes sagebrush lizardPhoto by FWS | Public Domain

While conservationists could briefly celebrate the listing of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, this listing quickly faced backlash from the oil and gas industry. In response to the listing, some U.S. House representatives added a “policy rider” to a proposed 2024 spending bill, which would bar the listing of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard under the Endangered Species Act. On July 19th, 2023, that spending bill was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

Should it pass, the FY24 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Bill will not only block protections for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, but it will also undermine countless other environmental protection efforts. As the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard population continues to lack federal protection, it will likely continue to decline. The Dunes Sagebrush Lizard is only one of many species at risk of endangerment and extinction from habitat loss and climate change, and we must protect these beloved creatures of the Earth. 

On August 29th, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will extend the public comment period on the proposal to list the lizard as endangered until October 2, 2023. 


Mara Asmis

Wildlife and Wild Places Intern

Luke Metzger

Executive Director, Environment Texas Research & Policy Center

As the director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at three Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughter are working to visit every state park in Texas.

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