Federal Dune Sagebrush Listing Would Disregard A Decade’s Worth of Conservation Progress

Thu, July 13, 2023

For more than a decade, the Texas oil and gas industry has worked alongside regulators, landowners, and other stakeholders to voluntarily protect the dune sagebrush lizards and their habitats.

Despite this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed a rule adding the dune sagebrush lizard to the endangered species list at the end of June – a move that could severely restrict energy development in the Permian Basin and derail ongoing conservation efforts.

Much of the dune sagebrush lizard’s habitat, nests, and food resources exist within the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico. Conservation efforts have enabled these habitats to co-exist alongside energy development in the Basin, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of all domestic oil production and more than 10 percent of all U.S. natural gas.

A History of Collaboration

In 2012, the Texas Conservation Plan finalized a candidate conservation agreement with assurances (CCAA) to protect the dune sagebrush lizard. This agreement, with consultations from the Texas Railroad Commission and the Texas’ oil and gas industry, created key initiatives to protect the species such as avoiding their natural habitats of dunes and swales, improving management of waste, and using remote well monitoring to reduce traffic around dune sagebrush lizard habitats.  

Then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that the agreement was “the right thing for conservation, and the right thing for the economy,” explaining:

“My goal is to implement a 21st Century conservation agenda, and when I see 600,000 acres plus, and I see most of the lizard habitat protected, that is a major victory for conservation.”

The agreement was also praised by environmental groups like the Environmental Defense Fund, according to Reuters:

“Farmers, ranchers, and landowners are essential allies in the effort to ensure that as our nation grows, we still have abundant wildlife populations to enjoy,” said David Festa, vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “Give them the tools and incentives, like candidate conservation agreements, and they will provide a well-managed habitat at the scale which is needed today.”

Conservation efforts by the industry and the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts continued through two additional conservation agreements – one in 2018 that was rejected by FWS, and another in 2021 which was approved.

Despite these efforts to protect the Permian Basin’s natural ecosystems, environmental groups have been  persistent in their attacks against Texas producers who are doing their part to conserve while simultaneously providing critical energy resources, pushing FWS to list the lizard despite the progress made voluntarily.

“We are extremely disappointed in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) decision to again list the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard as Endangered in the Permian Basin,” said Ben Shepperd, President of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association. “In spite of the successful conservation efforts on the ground for over a decade and that less than two years ago approving a conservation plan for the Lizard that all parties agreed would conserve habitat. We are shocked and dismayed at this decision”

According to Sheppard, by 2019, the oil and gas industry had already spent millions of dollars in efforts to protect the dune sagebrush lizard.

Oil and gas producers have long-acknowledged their role in preserving Texas’s natural beauty. After more than a decade of conservation efforts by Texas regulators, local stakeholders, and the oil and gas industry, the FWS is again proposing to classify the dune sagebrush lizard as endangered. This proposal comes at the behest of environmental justice groups who have petitioned the species to be added to the endangered list for over twenty years, despite FWS’ decision to withdraw the proposed classification after no significant threats to the species in 2012.

Following the proposed rule, FWS will be accepting public comments on the issue through September 1, 2023. The FWS also announced that they will be holding a public information meeting and hearing on July 31, 2023.

“Instead of collaborating with key stakeholders on the issue, FWS has put Texas producers in a position that threatens our ability to provide affordable, reliable energy resources to our state and country,” said Ed Longanecker, President of the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association. “The reality is the push by environmental groups to get this classification would limit opportunities for stakeholders to establish robust solutions towards conserving local habitats,” added Longanecker.

The Texas oil and gas industry are leaders in protecting and restoring the natural ecosystems across the Lone Star State. Conservation has been a top priority of Texas producers for decades and they have worked closely with state regulators to protect species like the dune sagebrush lizard while continuing to develop essential energy resources.