Newswise — Petroleum and ranching interests in the Southwest United States can breathe a sigh of relief after officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have decided not to list the dunes sagebrush lizard as needing federal protection. The animal lives in four counties of southeastern New Mexico and four others in West Texas.
Last December, citing dunes sagebrush lizard research done by Texas Tech University scientists, a letter from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) may have helped to sway the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to delay a decision Dec. 1 on listing the 3-inch-long reptile as an endangered species. Both researchers can discuss why such a small animal created so much consternation for the petroleum and ranching industries, and why the Fish and Wildlife Service were looking to list the lizard in the first place.
• Chris Salice, assistant professor of environmental toxicology, The Institute of Environmental and Human Health, Texas Tech University, (806) 885-4567 or firstname.lastname@example.org;
• Todd Anderson, professor of environmental chemistry, The Institute of Environmental and Human Health, Texas Tech University, (806) 885-4567 or email@example.com.
• A preliminary risk assessment for the lizard done by scientists at The Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH) tested the Fish and Wildlife Service’s list of possible human-created threats to the lizard.
• Some possible stressors cited by U.S. Fish and Wildlife included poisonous hydrogen sulfide gas and petroleum hydrocarbon and sulfate contamination of dune sand by the oil industry, the use of the herbicide Tebuthiuron by ranching industry on shinnery oak habitats and changing weather patterns affecting the size of sand grains in dunes that the lizard uses for nesting.
• The researchers found little evidence that these issues were enough to significantly impact the lizard’s ability to live and breed in their preliminary studies.
• This preliminary study was limited in scope, and researchers would like to conduct a larger research study to better characterize those stressors across the range of the species to see if they are problematic or not.
• “I think the important thing was that a decision was finally made and it was based on input from a bunch of stakeholders. Now I think we have a path forward. If the lizard was listed, then research was going to benefit the species and be used to fine-tune management strategies to limit impacts on oil and gas production. If not listed, the species is still of conservation concern and, similarly, research is needed to limit or eliminate risks to the species.” – Chris Salice
• “We are still conducting tests on the surrogate lizard (fence lizard) in an effort to determine potential toxicity of H2S. That work is nearing completion, but we still have more field work planned. The Permian Basin Petroleum Association is supporting us.” – Todd Anderson