Monday, March 19, 2012

NM's most riveting election candidate? The sagebrush lizard

Perhaps the most controversial candidate in this election year is one that has never spoken a word and never will. The dunes sagebrush lizard, a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, is the central figure in a debate that the federal government must resolve this spring. Should the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service protect the small reptile against the wishes of the oil and gas industry in Texas and New Mexico? Or should the government rely on voluntary but legally binding agreements in which businesses and landowners pledge to co-exist with the reptile? The dunes sagebrush lizard, tan, striped and about the size of a human hand, exists only in parts of four counties in southeastern New Mexico and four others in West Texas. Lee Fitzgerald, a biologist at Texas A&M, probably has studied this reptile as much as anyone. Apolitical and determined to remain so, Fitzgerald has not joined the partisan conflict in which conservation groups are pressing for the lizard's listing and Republican politicians are trying to defeat it. Fitzgerald searched for the lizard last year in 50 locations of the desert. Even after locating it in 28 places, he said, he could not estimate its population. "There are areas where the habitat is very optimal for the species," Fitzgerald said in an interview. "There also are areas of fragmentation of the species, where its habitat has been degraded." To live, the dunes sagebrush lizard needs a combination of wind, sand and the shrub shinnery oak. If the desert winds howl just right, they create blowouts in the sandy patches with shinnery oak. The lizard can survive in those conditions but no others...more

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