Texas Public Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson scored the quote of the day with that announcement at a public rally in Midland on April 26th. He was referring to the chilling effect the inclusion of the three-inch Dunes Sagebrush Lizard into the federal Endangered Species listing could have for oil and gas operations in Southeast New Mexico and West Texas. A listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could occur by December 15, 2011 and possibly impact activity in Andrews, Crane, Gaines, Ward and Winkler counties in Texas and Chaves, Eddy, Lea and Roosevelt counties in New Mexico. That could put a dent in the red hot Bone Springs and Avalon/Leonard plays.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking legal protection for the lizard because of dramatic loss of its habitat due to oil and gas activity and cattle grazing. The imperiled creature lives only among stands of shinnery oak, a relatively rare tree that thrives in the sand dunes of the region. Beneath the tree, which is more like a bush in height, the lizard buries itself in the sand to avoid predators and regulate its body temperature. A Tucson, AZ based group originally petitioned the federal government to list the lizard as an endangered species in 2002, arguing that increased oil and gas activity on public lands in New Mexico had left the species without enough habitat to survive. Ranchers also make the situation worse by using herbicide spray to remove the shinnery oak, which is toxic to cattle.
A potential solution may be legally binding conservation agreements between property owners and the government which require landowners to take a number of steps to protect habitat. Such voluntary pacts are in place in New Mexico and are in the planning stages in Texas. Otherwise lawsuits may be pursued by the GLO against the Fish and Wildlife Department.
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