TECOPA CA -- In response to a petition I worked on with the late Dr. David Morafka, Noah Greenwald and others while still at the Center for Biological Diversity, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the Amargosa River population of the Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard, Uma scoparia, warrants consideration for protection as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The agency will now begin a one-year status review of the species.
“Off-road vehicles come at this highly adapted and unique lizard from all sides — they degrade its habitat, destroy its food source, and trample lizards directly,” said Chris Kassar, a wildlife biologist with the Center. “This is a rare and vulnerable creature that simply cannot co-exist with such off-road vehicle excess. The lizard desperately needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act to avoid extinction.”
Although this lizard can evade predators and extreme midday heat by using its fringed toes to swiftly bury itself in the fine sands of the dunes it inhabits, it remains close enough to the surface that it is still vulnerable to death or injury from off-road vehicles’ sand-digging tires.
The Amargosa River population of the Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard occupies three dunes in and adjacent to Death Valley National Park, of which the largest is Dumont Dunes. Scientists determined that the Amargosa population is genetically distinct from other populations of the species, which allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect it as a “distinct population segment.”
"The discovery of the Amargosa River population of the Mojave Fringe-toed Lizard as genetically very distinct was completely unanticipated,” said Dr. Robert W. Murphy, a Professor of Zoology at the University of Toronto who conducted the genetic studies. “The petition... to conserve this important population marks a significant advance for this species' conservation. And by association other dune-restricted species can be protected as well. I know that Dr. Morafka, who initiated this work, would have been very proud of this outstanding achievement."
The greatest threat to the lizard is intensive off-road vehicle recreational use, which has killed many individuals directly and destroyed habitat. Dumont Dunes and Ibex Dunes together make up 98 percent of the species’ range; the Dumont Dunes ORV Recreation Area, on US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) run public lands in the California Desert Conservation Area, attracts more than 100,000 off-roaders per year and contains the bulk of the lizard’s habitat.
Illegal ORV trespass into southeast Death Valley National Park at Ibex Dunes occurs due to spillover from Dumont Dunes. Yet the Bureau of Land Management has taken little action to protect the lizard from this rampant ORV use.
“The Bureau of Land Management is largely responsible for the decline in the species because it’s authorized and accommodated increasing, intensive off-road vehicle use over so much of the species’ range,” said Kassar. “There’s a very real possibility that continued ORV use in Mojave fringe-toed lizard habitat will lead to the extinction of this small and fragile population. Endangered Species Act listing is the best chance this lizard has of survival.”
The finding on the petition to protect the lizard, published in the Federal Register on January 10, 2008, is almost a year and a half overdue. The finding requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency charged with implementing the Endangered Species Act, to solicit public comment, carry out a status review of the species, and issue a proposed rule to protect the species later this year. Final protection would occur within one year thereafter.
- adapted from CBD