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How Dirty Energy Drives Wildlife to the Brink

Climate

WildEarth Guardians

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 Jan. 19 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.”

The 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.

The 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 U.S. 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. 

“The 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 protections.”

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.

For more information and to view the full report, click here.

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.

Dunes 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.

Kemp’s 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..

Kentucky 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.

Advocates’ 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 sources.

For more information, click here.

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