Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The continuing fight about the Lizard

The following Op-ed appeared in the Las Cruces paper earlier this year. The folks at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), a law firm masquerading as a zoological research organization, responded on Monday, March 12th in the same Las Cruces Sun-News. The CBD did not address any of the scientific criticisms briefly mentioned here or exposed in detail in our Roundtable Report on the Dunes Sagebrush Liard which can be found at

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), a law firm masquerading as a zoological research organization, has launched a new salvo of scare tactics to force the listing of the dunes sagebrush lizard under the Endangered Species Act. Like Captain Ahab, they relentlessly purse this goal regardless of the lack of scientific evidence and the economic impact on New Mexico and West Texas. CBD continues to claim that the lizard cannot survive in areas that produce oil and gas. This week, they published a press release citing a report titled “Fueling Extinction: How Dirty Energy Drives Wildlife to the Brink.” In this release CBD defines the report as a study of “how wildlife suffers displacement, loss of habitat and the threat of extinction from the evelopment, storage and transportation of fossil fuels.”

While the rest of New Mexico remains mired in the “great recession” small businesses in southeast New Mexico are advertising for workers on the radio. However, those at CBD are not concerned about the workers who will be put out of work should their reckless efforts succeed. They are not concerned about the families that will suffer. They are concerned with collecting their legal fees from the American taxpayer and pushing their radical agenda. That is bad enough, but groups like CBD are pushing for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the lizard without accurate science.

The studies cited by FWS are inconclusive and vague, but they also illustrate the practice of drive-by studies and incomplete fact checking.Destroying an industry based on faulty science is ludicrous, and the people of New Mexico and West Texas are justifiably outraged. I was honored to be part of a scientific roundtable composed of experts and scientists to do a detailed examination of the case to list the lizard.

The proposed rule in the Federal Register makes outlandish assertions that have been proven to be unsupported by the very scientific studies they cite. One example is the claim that pipelines are a “significant threat” to the lizard. However, the very scientific study referenced states areas “with pipeline cuts had more [lizards] than [areas] without pipeline cuts.”Furthermore, “This suggests that pipeline cuts and sand roads serve as preferred habitat where they represent artificial blowouts, new habitat and possible dispersal corridors.”

The flagship scientific study which the CDB law firm used in its original petitions recognizes that even though there has been oil field activity in the lizards habitat for decades the lizard is “still easy to find and abundant”

In addition the Bureau of Land Management, a sister agency of the USFWS submitted on May 6, 2011 that , “The BLM asserts that the listing of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard is not warranted because of the conservation tools in place to ameliorate threats to the species.” Once again, it is plainly obvious that the CBD law firm cares nothing about what real scientific data proves.

Moreover, a 2011 study conducted by New Mexico State’s Range Improvement Task Force determined that much of the data used as evidence for a listing of the lizard is “not scientifically defensible.” Another study by Texas Tech stated that uncertainties related to the effects of oil and gas exploration on the lizard’s population “preclude an accurate assessment of risks, and therefore prevent management decisions that could optimize both species protection and economic production.” The list of serious scientific criticisms goes on and on.

This science based examination of the rule has surprised and upset the extreme special interest groups like CBD. However, the USFWS was forced to acknowledge the validity of this work. They attempted to placate the radicals by delaying the decision for 6 months. Obviously they did not succeed.

Having lost the scientific battle, the CDB law firm is trying to win the emotional fight. They want to force the USFWS to ignore science and bow to political pressure. That would be a tragic mistake. The negative impact the listing will have on jobs is frightening. The effect on New Mexico’s economy and the ability of the state to fund education and health care for the poor
would be devastating.

The very fact that after years of reviewing data USFWS cannot make a case, which withstands critical review, to list the lizard proves there is not a scientific basis to proceed with listing. The USFWS needs to acknowledge the facts and reject the CDB baseless rhetoric.

The simple fact is that the lizard and the oil patch have co-existed for half a century. The sky is not falling no matter what “chicken little” says.