On September 30, 2014, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia rejected a challenge to the decision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to withdraw a proposed listing of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, a species found in many oil and gas producing areas, as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. The case is Defenders of Wildlife, et al. v. Jewell. The District Court held that the decision of the FWS was lawful, and comported with the requirements of the ESA and the FWS’ and National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) 2003 Policy for Evaluation of Conservation Efforts When Making Listing Decisions (PECE) for the Evaluation of Conservation Efforts When Making Listing Decisions. Of particular importance were three conservation mechanisms–the BLM’s Resource Management Plan Amendment, the “New Mexico Agreement”, and the “Texas Plan”. The New Mexico and Texas plans are Candidate Conservation Agreements that the Service approved.
The Texas Comptroller and several oil and gas associations intervened as defendants to support the Service and their own conservation plans. This decision is likely to be appealed, but it certainly seems to strengthen the case for the measures that are being proposed (and challenged) to protect the Lesser Prairie Chicken, a species that was listed as threatened earlier this year.