Pearce to defund lizard and prairie chicken listing

Last month, Representative Pearce of New Mexico sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee asking it to deny funding to list the sand dune lizard (Sceloporus arenicolus) and the lesser prairie chicken (Tympanuchus pallidicinctus) under the Endangered Species Act.  Both species are candidates for listing and have been assigned a listing priority number of 2 out of 12, meaning that the need for listing is extremely high.  Pearce believes that the Fish & Wildlife Service needs to more thoroughly explore voluntary conservation options, such as candidate conservation agreements, before resorting to listing.  To that end, his request does not restrict funding to implement candidate agreements.  You can read more about Pearce’s letter in Defenders’ press release here.

The proposed funding restriction has several problems, including that it has no official end date.  So with the threat of listing far into the future (and perhaps never to materialize), will oil and gas developers truly be motivated to enter into candidate agreements?  After all, although some landowners enter into agreements primary to conserve candidate species, others primarily seek to reduce the regulatory burdens from an eventual listing.  Unless Pearce specifies a timeframe for lifting the funding restriction, we are unlikely to see enough new candidate agreements to reverse the decline of either the sand dune lizard or the prairie chicken. In fact, since 2004, when the lizard was placed on the candidate list, only six private landowners and four oil companies have enrolled in candidate agreements within the lizard’s range.  The Service believes that “there are hundreds of oil and gas operators in the range of the dunes sagebrush lizard, and participation throughout the majority of the dunes sagebrush lizard habitat would be necessary for the conservation of the species.”

Sand dune lizard

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Ya-Wei Li is the Senior Director of Endangered Species Conservation at Defenders of Wildlife.

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