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State Accused of Mismanagement on Endangered Species

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PHOTO: The U-S Fish and Wildlife Service is being taken to court over the protection of the dunes sagebrush lizard. Defenders of Wildlife says the lizard's habitat is being damaged in 3 Texas counties, but the report from the state comptroller says not a single acre has been impacted. CREDIT: USFWS
PHOTO: The U-S Fish and Wildlife Service is being taken to court over the protection of the dunes sagebrush lizard. Defenders of Wildlife says the lizard's habitat is being damaged in 3 Texas counties, but the report from the state comptroller says not a single acre has been impacted. CREDIT: USFWS
 By John MichaelsonContact
August 27, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas - A plan that was touted as a way for Texas to retain control over and protect threatened and endangered species in the state is being called a failure by Defenders of Wildlife. According to attorney and endangered-species specialist Ya-Wei "Jake" Li, aerial photos and a review of drilling permits show habitat for the dunes sagebrush lizard is being damaged, contrary to what's claimed by the state comptroller.

"What the comptroller has reported through May of this year is that not a single acre of habitat has been disturbed on the lizard's prime habitat," Li reported. "And what we've found is multiple instances of new oil well pads, new roads and other disturbances in three counties in Texas."

The Texas Conservation Plan was implemented as a way for landowners to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the dunes sagebrush lizard's habitat and keep it off the endangered species list.

Li said there are multiple problems with the Texas Conservation Plan, including a lack of resources and a potential conflict of interest, as the comptroller has delegated the responsibilities to what's called the Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation.

"The foundation is actually overseen by three oil and gas lobbyists," Li revealed. "And this foundation, all of their work, is actually conducted by one biologist, and so you basically have one person overseeing 200,000-plus acres of habitat in Texas."

Li said it's vital to take a stand now, not only for the lizard but for other wildlife in Texas which could be affected by the precedent.

"And the reason is that then-Secretary (of the Interior Ken) Salazar was touting this Texas plan as a model forward for other species, and we certainly wouldn't want to see the same level of lack of transparency happen with other species that may warrant listing."

Defenders of Wildlife has filed suit, asking Fish and Wildlife to withdraw the plan and re-evaluate its decision on the listing of the lizard.

The dunes sagebrush lizard is a species which only resides in the shinnery oak sand-dune systems of extreme southeast New Mexico and four adjacent counties in Texas.

More information is at bit.ly/12Eqo4R.

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