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Feds are using this dated, incomplete and conflicting science to justify moving forward with the Endagered Species listing

Dunes Sagebrush Lizards- Another Spotted Owl Fiasco?

By —— Bio and Archives July 27, 2011

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Texas is the nation’s leading oil and gas producing state. It provides 32 percent of the domestic onshore oil production and 35 percent of the domestic onshore-marketed gas production in the United States. Yet, as the importance of developing our own energy resources has become more acute than ever, oil and gas production in West Texas threatens to be shut down by the dunes sagebrush lizard. Between the environmentalists who are itching to put this little lizard on the endangered list and Obama’s Administration who have a disdain for domestic oil production, the little lizard could become another spotted owl. (1)

Gary Jason reports, “This five-inch-long lizard, supposedly dying out, has a habitat that stretches across southeastern New Mexico and west central Texas, smack-dab in the middle of the longest-exploited and most productive oil field in America, the Permian Basin field. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to get this lowly lizard listed as an endangered species, claiming that oil and gas development is ruining the lizard’s habitat. Of course, if the feds declare this banal reptile ‘endangered’ all drilling companies in the affected area will immediately come under the iron fist of the Fish and Wildlife Service, which will demand that they work without ‘harming’ the habitat of the mundane creatures.” (2)

Nobody know the size of this reptile’s population to begin with, which raises the question of how exactly we know that it is endangered but as Laer Pearce reports, “It is probably the single best species to latch onto if you want to stop much of our domestic oil and natural gas production in its tracks, since there’s nothing like an endangered species listing to keep people from doing much on the listed critter’s habitat.” (3)

“The science is terrible,” said Permian Basin Petroleum Association spokeswoman Jane Sheppard. “They have one study that says the lizards won’t cross roads and another that says their population is dropping because they’re being killed when they cross roads. Which is it?” Regardless, the Feds are using this dated, incomplete and conflicting science to justify moving forward with the listing. (3)

Some folks state the little lizard has problems existing because of all the birds in aviary oasis and all the roaming dogs and cats that kill anything that moves. Even squirrels take a toll as well as Texas Roadrunners.

All of this sounds reminiscent of the spotted owl. We were told that spotted owls were disappearing because big bad timber companies were cutting down old-growth forests. So the environmental movement rushed to the forests, hugged the trees, and issued news releases to decrying the evils of the logging industry. Save the owl. Save the trees. Kill the timber industry. As a result of the hysteria to save the ‘endangered’ owls, US timber sales were reduced by 80 to 90 percent, forcing saw mills to close, loggers to go broke, and the literal disappearance of entire towns that depended on the industry. (4)

Yet, almost twenty years after old-growth logging was banned on most federal lands to protect the owls, their numbers are vanishing faster than ever. Why? The habitat loss may no longer be the primary threat to spotted owls’ survival. There is a new wrinkle, the invasion of the larger, more aggressive barred owl into spotted owl territory. Barred owls are less selective about the habitat they use and the prey they feed upon and are out-competing northern spotted owl’s decline. The barred owl ether eats spotted owls or kicks them out of their habitat. Warren Cornwall reported in August 2008, “Desperate government wildlife managers are now considering experiments of systematically shooting barred owls. In a preliminary test in Northern California, researchers have shot seven barred owls near former spotted owl nesting sites. Spotted owls returned to all the sites.” (5) Just recently its been reported that invasive barred owls have gained a critical foothold in Muir Woods just north of San Francisco and the shooting strategy is still under consideration. (6)

Should fossil fuel companies even threaten an obscure lizard or bird, the EPA or some other federal agency will pounce on them. Some recent examples: In July 2009 Pacificorp agreed to pay $10.5 million in fines for the deaths of at least 232 golden eagles that had been electrocuted in Wyoming and in August, Exxon Mobil agreed to pay $600,000 in fines and fees for 85 birds which were killed after the animals came in contact with hydrocarbons in uncovered tanks. These were the latest of hundreds of cases that federal officials brought against oil and gas companies over the last two decades for violation of the Migratory Bird Act. : Syncrude Canada Ltd., Canada’s largest oil sand producer was found guilty in the deaths of 1,600 ducks that landed on a toxic Northern Alberta tailing pond in 2008. The company faces possible fines of $800,000. (7)

What about wind turbines which are killing between 75,000 and 275,000 birds per year? The US Department of Justice does not press charges in these cases and there is no hue and cry from environmental organizations about the ‘green energy’ bird deaths.

Robert Bryce sums this up very well, “When it comes to protecting America’s wildlife, federal law enforcement officials have a double standard: one that’s enforced against oil, gas, and electricity utility sectors, and another that exempts the wind power sector from prosecution despite years of evidence involving hundreds, even thousands of violations of two of America’s oldest wildlife protections laws. (8) This same statement applies equally well to environmental groups who ignore the wind industry kills yet applaud the fines levied on oil and gas companies for bird deaths.


  1. Red Sonja, “Who will win, the sand dunes sagebrush lizard or the people of Texas?”, May 4, 2011
  2. Gary Jason, “More Enviro-Anomalies,” American Thinker, June 20, 2011
  3. Laer Pearce, “Will Obama take on the sand dune lizards?” The Daily Caller, May 2, 2011
  4. Tom DeWeese, “Timber Companies Exonerated, Barred Owls Blamed for Spotted Owl Decline,” Environment & Climate News, 10, 10, September 2007
  5. Warren Cornwall, “As spotted owl’s numbers keep falling, some fear it’s doomed,” The Seattle Times, August 13, 2008
  6. Kelly Zito, “Barred owl threatens its spotted cousin,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 3, 2011, Page A1
  7. Jeffrey Jones, “Syncrude guilty in 1,600 duck deaths in toxic pond,”, June 28, 2010
  8. Ruffin Prevost, “Utility to pay for bird deaths,” Billings Gazette, July 11, 2009


Jack Dini -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Jack Dini is author of Challenging Environmental Mythology.  He has also written for American Council on Science and Health, Environment & Climate News, and Hawaii Reporter.

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