Federal Decision on Dunes Sagebrush Lizard Strikes Balance
By Sens. Carlos Uresti and Kel Seliger
Washington got this one right. Without the need for restrictive regulations, the dunes sagebrush lizard is going to get along just fine. And so will the West Texas economy.
Thanks to the extensive stakeholder process and voluntary conservation efforts by landowners and oil and gas producers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided this past week that the dunes sagebrush lizard does not need to be listed under the Endangered Species Act.
It's an outcome that shows government can work with the private sector to solve problems when everyone is willing to cooperate, and human needs are taken into consideration. And it shows that property rights, economic development, and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive.
A listing would have led to harsh restrictions on private property rights and hampered oil and gas production, which is currently in a boom cycle and helping to shore up the entire state economy and provide domestic energy security.
The FWS proposed a rule to list the lizard back in December of 2010. Over the last year-and-a-half, the agency has studied scientific information on the creature and its shinnery oak dune habitat in Texas and New Mexico. Recently, the Texas Legislature got involved, and we were appointed to a special sub-committee to review the proposed listing and the effect it would have on West Texas.
At an April 30 hearing in Odessa, we urged FWS officials to take any potential economic impacts into account in their decision to list the lizard. After all, when you're talking about habitat protection, it seems that human habitats should be considered as well.
After analyzing all the scientific data, the FWS determined that on-going voluntary conservation efforts to protect the lizard were working and sufficient to protect the species. And perhaps more importantly, it is not likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future because land owners and oil producers will continue their conservation efforts.
In announcing the decision last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the joint effort a great example of how states and landowners can work together to protect wildlife habitat and that "we don't have to choose between energy development and the protection of our land and wildlife - we can do both."
We are confident that Texas can continue to work with the FWS and other federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, for solutions that balance environmental and habitat concerns with economic development.
(Sen. Uresti, D-San Antonio, and Sen. Seliger, R-Amarillo, are members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.)