On September 30, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld (PDF) the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (Service) decision to withdraw(PDF) its proposal to list the dunes sagebrush lizard as an endangered species.  The Service found that threats to the lizard and its habitat have been reduced such that the species no longer meets the statutory definition of an endangered (or threatened) species.  

The dunes sagebrush lizard’s (Sceloporus arenicolus) range spans approximately 745,000 acres across southeastern New Mexico and western Texas in shinnery oak dune habitat.  The lizard’s habitat also lies within the Permian Basin, one of the most significant sources of oil and gas in the United States.  The Service’s 2010 proposal (PDF) to list the lizard as endangered identified increasing pressure on the species’ specialized habitat from conventional and renewable energy development.

The Service’s determination that the lizard and its habitat are protected to a level that the lizard is no longer in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future was based on existing and future anticipated conservation measures.  The Policy for Evaluation of Conservation Efforts When Making Listing Decisions (PECE) (PDF) allows the Service to consider conservation efforts that have not yet been implemented, so long as the Service evaluates, “the certainty that the conservation effort[s] will be implemented . . . [and] the certainty that the conservation effort[s] will be effective.”  

In this case, the Service found that existing large blocks of protected habitat and the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) continued enforcement of species-specific measures protecting the lizard and its habitat under its Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA) combined with implementation of two voluntary conservation agreements to protect and restore the lizard’s habitat (one, implemented since 2008; the other, executed less than six months before withdrawal of the proposed listing) would be effective and would continue to eliminate threats to the lizard.  The court held that the Service’s conclusion complied with the PECE and dismissed plaintiff organization’s other claims that the Service’s listing withdrawal violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Administrative Procedure Act.  

In other listing news, on October 1, 2014, the Service published a “not warranted” (PDF) finding on a petition to list the Rio Grande cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki viginalis).  The Service will remove the cutthroat trout from the candidate list, ending – for now – an over 6-year saga that included not less than four Service listing findings and two lawsuits.  According to the Service, this October 1, 2014 12-month finding fulfills the requirements of the settlement agreement for the currently active lawsuit.  

Finally, on September 29, 2014, Wildearth Guardians submitted a petition to list as threatened or endangered under the ESA the Rio Grande sucker (Catostomus plebeius) throughout its range in the Rio Grande and its tributaries in southern Colorado, New Mexico, and several states in Mexico.  Under Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the ESA, 16 U.S.C. § 1533 (b)(3)(A), the Service should, to the maximum extent practicable, publish a finding within 90 days of receiving the petition whether the petitioned action “may be warranted.”