The American public has awakened and is acutely aware of the damage environmentally driven policy is doing to America’s citizens and economy. The decision not to add the sand dune lizard to the list of species protected under the Endangered Species Act, announced Wednesday by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), was precipitated by public involvement as the citizens of Texas and New Mexico wrote the FWS, showed up at public rallies, and spoke up at official hearings in opposition to the listing. The listing of the sand dune lizard had the potential annual cost of more than $35 billion to the American economy due to lost oil production alone.
Most endangered species listings are proposed and then listed with little fanfare. The public is often totally unaware the listing is possible and the negative economic consequences on the local and national economy are not considered. But this time it was different. Armed with the history of the devastating impacts an endangered species listing can have on communities and economies—such as the spotted owl and the delta smelt—New Mexico Congressman Steve Pearce drew a line in the sand and stood up for the citizens who would be impacted most by the proposed listing of the sand dune lizard. Congressman Pearce’s efforts were augmented by Texas Congressman Mike Conaway and Texas Senator John Cornyn—each deserves plaudits from the people.
In December of 2010, the FWS announced the nomination of the sand dune lizard for listing as an endangered species—a move that was prompted by a petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Chihuahuan Desert Conservation Alliance.
Ben Shepperd, of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, explains it this way: “The Endangered Species Act in current form is being exploited by activist groups that generate income for themselves while hiding behind a pretense of protecting the environment. Suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a cottage industry for them. Regardless of the decision rendered in their manifold lawsuits, the groups receive legal fees—our taxpayer dollars—from the federal government.”
Throughout 2011, people came together. Community meetings were held and the stakeholders were engaged—even enraged. Large public rallies with hundreds in attendance took place in Roswell and Artesia, NM, and Midland, TX. News crews gave the issue national attention. Independent scientists gathered to examine the science behind the listing and found it full of flaws, assumptions, and erroneous conclusions—issuing a report, which was given to FWS.
In December 2011, when the Endangered Species Act required a “list,” “decline to list,” or “delay” decision, the FWS announced that it was exercising the “delay” option—which gave the agency six more months to study the newly presented evidence.
Concerned citizens and the oil and gas industry have been anxiously awaiting the decision.
Congressman Pearce called the decision a “huge victory for the people who have so tirelessly fought to save their jobs and their way of life.”
Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar praised the efforts of the oil and gas industry in working to preserve the lizard’s habitat through Candidate Conservation Agreements, saying they were “nothing short of historic.”
Meanwhile, environmental groups are claiming that the “Department of Interior sold out to big oil.”
The listing of the sand dune lizard had the potential to virtually shut down oil and gas development in the Permian Basin region of Southeastern New Mexico and West Texas—an area responsible for 20% of America’s domestic production. If the decision had come down on the side of listing the lizard, it may well have decimated the local economies and had the potential to raise gas prices nationwide due to reduced supply.
The publicity the proposed sand dune lizard listing attracted has, perhaps, gotten the attention of the Obama campaign—which may have influenced the outcome. After all, could he afford to hurt a major portion of the economy in a swing state just months before the election?
The sand dune lizard victory should be an example for concerned citizens everywhere—regardless of the issue. Wake up, show up, stand up, and speak up.
Celebrate while we can! The lesser prairie chicken and the jobs it may endanger are next. Without a looming election, we might not be so lucky. But then again, maybe the election will change everything.