Fossil Fuel Development Taking a Toll on Wildlife
Dunes Sagebrush Lizard Ranks among Top Ten Species Imperiled by Oil and Gas Industry
Taylor McKinnon, Center for
Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
Texas— The dunes sagebrush lizard, a
small, rare lizard that lives only in Texas and New Mexico, was named one of 10
U.S. species most urgently threatened by fossil fuel development in a report
released today by the Endangered Species Coalition. The report, Fueling Extinction: How Dirty Energy Drives
Wildlife to the Brink, highlights the top 10 U.S. species whose survival is
most threatened by fossil fuels. The dunes sagebrush lizard is currently
proposed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
“America’s outsized reliance on dirty and dangerous
fuels is making it much harder to protect our most vulnerable wildlife,” said
Mark Salvo with WildEarth Guardians. “We should not sacrifice our irreplaceable
natural heritage in order to make the fossil fuels industry even wealthier.”
report highlights the 10 most endangered animals, plants, birds and fish at
risk of extinction due to fossil fuel development, and shows how wildlife
suffers displacement, loss of habitat and the threat of extinction from the
development, storage and transportation of fossil fuels. Coalition members
nominated candidates for inclusion in the report; submissions were then
reviewed, judged and voted on by a panel of scientists. The report identifies
the home range, conservation status, remaining population and specific threat
facing each of the 10 finalists.
dunes sagebrush lizard occurs in slivers of shinnery oak-sand dune habitat
within the Permian Basin, the largest onshore oil and gas field in the United
States. The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service to protect the lizard under the Endangered Species Act in
2002, and WildEarth Guardians submitted an emergency petition for the species in 2008. Long
threatened by fossil fuel development and other land uses, the Service finally
proposed the species for listing as “endangered” in December 2010.
fact that dunes sagebrush lizard habitat spans less than 2 percent of the
Permian Basin hasn’t stopped oil-polluted politicians from claiming that
protecting the lizard will destroy industry,” said Taylor McKinnon with the
Center for Biological Diversity. “The lizard, not the oil and gas industry, is
at risk of extinction — and industry’s refusal to yield even the last tiny
slivers of habitat to prevent that extinction underscores the need for federal
Congressional opponents have
loudly proclaimed that listing will “shut down” oil and gas development in the
Permian Basin. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and
colleagues have tried every conceivable tactic to prevent the Service from
protecting the species. Pearce’s opposition to listing the lizard is without
basis, however, as the dunes sagebrush
lizard occurs on less than 2 percent of the Permian Basin, and its small range has already been drilled with thousands of
oil and gas wells. The Service has repeatedly stated that listing the lizard
will have negligible effects on oil and gas development — but Pearce and his
colleagues are undeterred. He and other members of Congress recently pressured
the agency to delay the final listing decision for six months, allowing
opponents more time to sharpen their attacks on this tiny reptile.
Fueling Extinction: How Dirty
Energy Drives Wildlife to the Brink calls for a commitment to
a clean, safe and sustainable energy future; it urges lawmakers to honor the
intent of the Endangered Species Act while reducing the country’s dependence on
dirty fossil fuels.
more information and to view the full report, go to: http://fuelingextinction.org.
Top 10 List of Wildlife
Threatened by Development, Storage and Transportation of Fossil Fuels
Bowhead Whale: The remainder of the endangered
bowhead whale population is threatened by potential oil spills, noise from offshore
oil drilling, and deadly collisions with ships. An oil spill could easily undo
the successful recovery efforts for this species in recent years.
Sagebrush Lizard: The dunes sagebrush lizard is a candidate
for listing under the Endangered Species Act due to impacts from oil and gas
drilling on the Permian Basin in western Texas. Disturbance from well pads,
leaking pipelines, and high concentrations of toxic gas emitted from wells
contribute to the decline of the lizard’s population, which exists on a tiny
range within the Basin’s vast oil reserves.
Graham’s Penstemon: This delicate flower lives only
on oil shale reserves being explored for mining in Utah. Oil shale mining takes
massive amounts of water, putting the flowers at risk of either being starved
of water or drowned under new reservoirs.
Greater Sage Grouse: Energy development has caused
habitat loss and fragmentation due to roads, pipelines, power lines, and human
and vehicle-related disturbance, resulting in marked declines in sage-grouse
numbers. Coalbed methane gas development in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming
has coincided with a 79 percent decline in the greater sage-grouse population.
Ridley Sea Turtle: According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, the Kemp’s ridley is the most seriously endangered of all sea turtles,
due to lingering impacts of the BP oil disaster on Gulf waters - the sole
breeding ground and key feeding grounds of the turtle. A total of 809 Kemp’s
ridleys were found impacted by the spill, and of those 609 were killed..
Arrow Darter: Toxic waste pushed into streams from mountaintop
coal mining is smothering the rare Kentucky arrow darter fish and poisoning the
drinking water of downstream communities. The arrow darter has already been
wiped out from more than half of its range.
Spectacled Eider: Oil and gas development, along with climate change, have drastically
reduced the frigid habitat range of the threatened spectacled eider. As a
result, the western Alaskan population dropped by 96 percent between 1957 and
1992. Aircraft and vessel traffic and seismic survey acoustic activities can
all negatively impact the bird’s habitat and cause death.
Tan Riffleshell: This endangered mollusk plays a
critical role in the health of Appalachian river habitats by filtering
pollutants and restoring nutrients to the water. Acid mine drainage,
sedimentation from coal mining, and coal ash landfills are contaminating the
mussel’s habitat and breeding areas, further threatening this most endangered
member of the mussel family.
Whooping Crane: The endangered whooping crane
overcame near extinction in the 1940s, but the existing wild flock of 437
cranes now faces a new battle for survival. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline
would run alongside the crane’s entire migratory path from Canada to Texas, and
the inevitable toxic waste ponds, collisions and electrocutions from power
lines, along with potential oil spills, would decimate the vulnerable remaining
population. Although President Obama rejected the pipeline this week,
Republicans in Congress are expected to fight that decision.
Wyoming Pocket Gopher: It is estimated that fewer than
40 pocket gophers exist today in their sole range in Wyoming’s Sweetwater and
Carbon Counties. Truck and vehicle traffic associated with increasing oil and
gas activities result in habitat loss and fragmentation, cutting off potential
mating opportunities and endangering the survival of this rare animal.
Choice: The Polar Bear: The polar bears’ survival is
completely dependent upon sea ice, which is rapidly melting. They are further
threatened by the risk of an oil spill, and activities like seismic testing,
icebreaking, and vessel movement also negatively impact polar bears and their food