Lizard that lives in county could be added to endangered list

A lizard that lives in southern Roosevelt County may become federally listed as an endangered species, limiting the use of the land included in its habitat.

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service proposed the dunes sagebrush lizard, also known as the sand dunes lizard, be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The 60-day public comment period is scheduled to last until Feb. 14.

An area from Milnesand west to Kenna would be affected in Roosevelt County.

The small, light brown lizard lives in shinnery oak dunes in several southeastern New Mexico and west Texas counties.

According to Fish and Wildlife information, threats to the lizard include loss of habitat from oil and gas development and shinnery oak removal for ranching or oil and gas development.

A federal endangered species listing would prevent any activity that would kill or remove the lizard, said Debra Hill, Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in Albuquerque. The lizard is already listed as an endangered species with the state Game and Fish Department.

“It was just the extent of the threats across the range,” Hill said of the reason for proposing the lizard as a federal endangered species now.

The creature’s habitat has decreased 40 percent below its historic range, she said.

Tony Gennaro, Eastern New Mexico University distinguished professor emeritus in biology, said he “absolutely” agreed the lizards need protecting.

“They’re not that common,” he said.

Gennaro said the Fish and Wildlife Service has a professional team of scientists who research the condition of a species for years before recommending that it go on the endangered species list.

“They don’t just come up with these things overnight,” he said.

Hill said the Roosevelt County dunes sagebrush lizard habitat is being used for oil drilling and ranching now.

However, she said many landowners already have Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances, meaning they are taking sufficient steps to protect the lizard and won’t face further changes if the species is declared endangered.

In Roosevelt County, the agreements apply to the lizard and the lesser prairie chicken, as their habitats overlap there, she said.

“I think it’s made it a lot better for ranchers and oil companies,” Hill said of the agreements.

After the 60-day comment period, Hill expects the Washington, D.C., Fish and Wildlife office to take about a year to decide whether the list the lizard as endangered.