Skip to Content Facebook Feature Image

New endangered listing for rare lizard could slow oil and gas drilling in New Mexico and West Texas

News

New endangered listing for rare lizard could slow oil and gas drilling in New Mexico and West Texas
News

News

New endangered listing for rare lizard could slow oil and gas drilling in New Mexico and West Texas

2024-05-18 05:49 Last Updated At:05-19 10:23

Federal wildlife officials declared a rare lizard in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas an endangered species Friday, citing future energy development, sand mining and climate change as the biggest threats to its survival in one of the world’s most lucrative oil and natural gas basins.

“We have determined that the dunes sagebrush lizard is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range,” the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said. It concluded that the lizard already is “functionally extinct” across 47% of its range.

Much of the the 2.5-inch-long (6.5-centimeter), spiny, light brown lizard's remaining habitat has been fragmented, preventing the species from finding mates beyond those already living close by, according to biologists.

“Even if there were no further expansion of the oil and gas or sand mining industry, the existing footprint of these operations will continue to negatively affect the dunes sagebrush lizard into the future,” the service said in its final determination, published in the Federal Register.

The decision caps two decades of legal and regulatory skirmishes between the U.S. government, conservationists and the oil and gas industry. Environmentalists cheered the move, while industry leaders condemned it as a threat to future production of the fossil fuels.

The decision provides a “lifeline for survival” for a unique species whose “only fault has been occupying a habitat that the fossil fuel industry has been wanting to claw away from it,” said Bryan Bird, the Southwest director for Defenders of Wildlife.

“The dunes sagebrush lizard spent far too long languishing in a Pandora’s box of political and administrative back and forth even as its population was in free-fall towards extinction,” Bird said in a statement.

The Permian Basin Petroleum Association and the New Mexico Oil & Gas Association expressed disappointment, saying the determination flies in the face of available science and ignores longstanding state-sponsored conservation efforts across hundreds of thousands of acres and commitment of millions of dollars in both states.

“This listing will bring no additional benefit for the species and its habitat, yet could be detrimental to those living and working in the region,” PBPA President Ben Shepperd and NMOGA President and CEO Missi Currier said in a joint statement, adding that they view it as a federal overreach that can harm communities.

Scientists say the lizards are found only in the Permian Basin, the second-smallest range of any North American lizard. The reptiles live in sand dunes and among shinnery oak, where they feed on insects and spiders and burrow into the sand for protection from extreme temperatures.

Environmentalists first petitioned for the species' protection in 2002, and in 2010 federal officials found that it was warranted. That prompted an outcry from some members of Congress and communities that rely on oil and gas development for jobs and tax revenue.

Several Republican lawmakers sent a letter to officials in the Obama administration asking to delay a final decision, and in 2012, federal officials decided against listing the dunes sagebrush lizard.

Then-U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at the time that the decision was based on the “best available science” and because of voluntary conservation agreements in place in New Mexico and Texas.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said in Friday's decision that such agreements “have provided, and continue to provide, many conservation benefits” for the lizard, but “based on the information we reviewed in our assessment, we conclude that the risk of extinction for the dunes sagebrush lizard is high despite these efforts.”

Among other things, the network of roads will continue to restrict movement and facilitate direct mortality of dunes sagebrush lizards from traffic, it added, while industrial development “will continue to have edge effects on surrounding habitat and weaken the structure of the sand dune formations.”

FILE - This May 1, 2015, file photo shows a Dunes Sagebrush lizard in N.M. Federal wildlife officials declared the rare lizard in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas an endangered species, citing future energy development, sand mining and climate change as the biggest threats to its survival in one of the world's most lucrative oil and natural gas basins. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP, File)

FILE - This May 1, 2015, file photo shows a Dunes Sagebrush lizard in N.M. Federal wildlife officials declared the rare lizard in southeastern New Mexico and West Texas an endangered species, citing future energy development, sand mining and climate change as the biggest threats to its survival in one of the world's most lucrative oil and natural gas basins. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via AP, File)

DENVER (AP) — U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert was facing Republican primary voters Tuesday after fleeing a tough reelection race to run in a more GOP-leaning district, harried by accusations of carpetbagging and still bruised by an embarrassing video.

Boebert, who planted her MAGA flag in the House of Representatives in 2020, has amassed national conservative clout. But along with the limelight have come public scandals. Her decision to switch districts came after video surfaced of her vaping and causing a disturbance with a date at a musical production of Beetlejuice.

Boebert said she made the switch to ensure another Republican could win her old district, which she nearly lost in 2022, and she blamed outside groups for targeting her. But she had already become a fundraising magnet for the district's likely Democratic candidate, who has pulled in millions that may help him flip a seat that has leaned Republican in recent years.

On Tuesday voters will get their say in Boebert's new district, where she faced off against more traditional rivals including former state Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg; current state Reps. Mike Lynch and Richard Holtorf; and parental rights advocate Deborah Flora.

The winner is expected to also win the November general election in the heavily conservative 4th Congressional District, which sweeps across a wide expanse of ranches, ghost towns and conservative parts of the Denver metro area that make up much of the plains of eastern Colorado. Its voters overwhelmingly backed former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

The seat opened up after former Republican Rep. Ken Buck resigned from Congress. A special election was also being held Tuesday to fill the remaining months of Buck’s term, with Republican Greg Lopez, a former mayor of the city of Parker, favored to beat a Democrat and third-party candidates.

Buck cited the divisiveness of today's politics and his party's devotion to Trump in explaining his decision to resign. That division remains a factor in the race and is also on display in another Republican House primary in Colorado Springs, about an hour's drive south of Denver.

In the 5th Congressional District, Republican Dave Williams faces condemnation from his own ranks and demands for his resignation as GOP party chair, accused of using his position and state party resources to boost his own campaign.

The final straw for some Republicans was a recent email calling people celebrating Gay Pride Month “godless groomers.” The state party's account on the social platform X also posted: “Burn all the #pride flags this June.”

Williams faces Jeff Crank, a conservative commentator who has a similar political platform but breaks in style and disposition. Both are vying to fill the seat of Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, who is not seeking reelection.

Williams is a hard-line Trump acolyte who has parroted the former president's lies about the 2020 election and attacked fellow Republicans who don't align. Crank is molded in an older, more pragmatic GOP tradition.

As in the 4th District, the winner of the Republican-friendly 5th District will be favored in the general election.

Another House race watched closely on the national level is the 8th District, newly minted after redistricting in 2021 and hotly contested with voters roughly split between the two major parties.

The district, which stretches north of Denver, is currently represented by Democrat Yadira Caraveo, who won by less than 2,000 votes in 2022. Republican state Rep. Gabe Evans and former state Rep. Janak Joshi, a retired physician, are vying to challenge Caraveo, with Evans a former police officer, considered the front-runner.

The primary winner will likely benefit from a windfall of support from the National Republican Campaign Committee, which is intent on defending the party's thin House majority.

Farther to the west, among the Rocky Mountains and high desert mesas, a half-dozen Republicans were looking to replace Boebert as the nominee in the 3rd District.

The contenders include attorney Jeff Hurd and former Republican state Rep. Ron Hanks, whose differences largely follow the contours of Cranks’ and Williams’, respectively. Other candidates include Stephen Varela, a former Democrat who switched parties, businessman Lew Webb and financial advisor Russ Andrews.

The winner will likely be up against Adam Frisch, the businessman and Democratic candidate who lost to Boebert by only 546 votes in 2022, garnering name recognition from that close race. in the conservative district. Frisch raised at least $13 million for his 2024 campaign.

This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Rep. Caraveo's first name to Yadira, instead of Yadiro.

Jesse Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

FILE - Chairman of the Colorado Republican Party Dave Williams speaks in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Feb. 8, 2024, in Washington. Republican candidate Williams is running in Colorado's 5th Congressional District as he faces condemnation from his own ranks over anti-LGBTQ+ emails and using his position as state GOP chairman to boost his own campaign. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

FILE - Chairman of the Colorado Republican Party Dave Williams speaks in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Feb. 8, 2024, in Washington. Republican candidate Williams is running in Colorado's 5th Congressional District as he faces condemnation from his own ranks over anti-LGBTQ+ emails and using his position as state GOP chairman to boost his own campaign. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

FILE - Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., speaks during a news conference, July 14, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Boebert faces her first election in Colorado's GOP primary election Tuesday, June 25, 2024, after she fled a tough reelection race to run in a more Republican-leaning district. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

FILE - Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., speaks during a news conference, July 14, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Boebert faces her first election in Colorado's GOP primary election Tuesday, June 25, 2024, after she fled a tough reelection race to run in a more Republican-leaning district. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Recommended Articles