Here they go again!


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Oct 2, 2001
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Officials looking again at lizard

Desert animal considered for federal protection

By Terry Rodgers

December 27, 2001

A lizard that may have lost almost half of its habitat due to off-road vehicle activity, military training and expansion of farming and housing in the desert is being reconsidered for federal protection.

Acting on orders from a federal judge in San Diego, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced yesterday it will again consider listing the flat-tailed horned lizard as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The action triggers a 120-day period for anyone with new information of the lizard's life cycle or habitat to submit comments to the federal agency. A final decision will be made by Dec. 26, 2002.

Fish and Wildlife first proposed protection for the lizard in 1993, but withdrew the proposal in 1997. That prompted a lawsuit by the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife. A federal court in San Diego upheld the agency's decision, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned the lower court ruling in July.

Jane Hendron, a spokeswoman for the service's Carlsbad office, said the proposed listing was abandoned because proof of the lizard's population decline wasn't conclusive and "some of the threats to the lizard's habitat were found to be less serious" than officials originally thought.

Another major factor in the withdrawal of the listing was a pact signed in 1997 by several state and federal agencies to preserve portions of the lizard's 1.2 million acres of habitat, most of which is in California.

The habitat management agreement touted by federal officials has been ridiculed by environmentalists, who said it fails to set aside enough of the lizard's primary range and allows continued degradation of the protected areas by off-road-vehicle enthusiasts.

Lester Milroy, president of the Southern California Chapter of the Horned Lizard Conservation Society, said he was pleased that the courts have forced the Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider protecting the lizard, which has the smallest range of any horned lizard in the United States.

"It was originally proposed for listing in 1979, and the best science then showed the population was in severe decline," said Milroy, a resident of Apple Valley.

The lizard "looks like a diminutive dinosaur with all the horns on its head -- and everyone (mistakenly) calls them horny toads," he said.

Another factor in the lizard's continued decline may be the parallel drop in population of its primary food. Native California harvester ants have diminished due to pesticides and competition from non-native ant species.

The flat-tailed horned toad inhabits harsh, parched areas of the desert where temperatures soar to 115 degrees and higher. Its range includes the Coachella, Imperial and Borrego valleys, a small portion of southwest Arizona, northeastern Baja California and mainland Mexico.

The most recent estimates place the lizard's habitat loss at 49 percent.

Concerns about the proposed listing are expected from private landowners; the military, which operates desert bombing ranges; American Indian tribes and off-road-vehicle enthusiasts, Hendron said.

Comments about the lizard's life cycle or habitat should be sent to Field Supervisor, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, 2730 Loker Ave., Carlsbad, CA 92008. Comments can be sent by e-mail to the Fish and Wildlife office at E-mail submissions should avoid the use of special characters or encryption, and the message should include the sender's name and return address.

Its a wonder they didn't include hunters in the list of usual suspects!
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