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Worse, according to Ames-Jones, the lizard is a tool of oil-hating Obama, saying an attempt by U.S. Fish & Wildlife to add the dunes sagebrush lizard to the Endangered Species List is "an overt attempt by the Obama administration to hamper Texas' energy development."

She praised Senator John Cornyn's recently offered amendment attached to an energy bill that would block the lizard, native to a handful of counties in southeast New Mexico and West Texas, from being listed as an endangered species. Said Ames-Jones (after reminding us 'lizard' is not, in fact, in the U.S. Constitution): "I applaud Senator Cornyn for taking a strong stand in support of Texans who need jobs and against lizards who don't."

The little lizard's created quite a dustup among conservative lawmakers and oil and natural gas producers throughout the state, who claim that conservation efforts sparked by an endangered species listing could bring production in West Texas' Permian Basin to a "screeching halt." The Houston Chronicle has warned of production "slow[ing] to a crawl," while Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson blasted D.C.'s "reptile dysfunction." But some close to the drafting of Texas' conservation plan worry the prominent voice at the table during the Comptroller-driven talks has been big oil and gas. One biologist close to the state's proposal to U.S. Fish & Wildlife said it overwhelmingly relies on remediation, not conservation of habitat. "They're using untested, unproven recovery methods that should make us all nervous," the biologist said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Even more, proposals to require more lateral drilling, to disturb less habitat, were called "prohibitively expensive" by industry.

Lee Fitzgerald, a Texas A&M University herpetologist who's studied the biology, ecology, and conservation of the lizard since the mid-'90s, gave a more measured assessment, but said it's still "untested and unproven" whether the lizard's habitat can really be rebuilt after it's disturbed. "It's really about the interactions between wind and sand and oak that maintains this landscape out there. … The whole question of restoration of those dune habitats is really a big, open question."

So would endangered listing kill oil and gas production? "People want to blame the lizard, but it's just not as onerous as people have been stomping their feet about," said Tom Buckley, a spokesman with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tasked with handling fallout from the lizard-driven controversy. "I think it's just misdirection, frankly."

Consider that the oil-rich Permian Basin includes some 48 million acres, while the lizard habitat includes only some 200,000 acres stretching across pieces of five West Texas counties, and that Chronicle coverage becomes laughable. Were the lizard to be listed as endangered — Fish & Wildlife has pushed the decision back to June, Buckley said — Texas' conservation plan would likely morph into a federal habitat conservation plan anyway. "This has got everybody scared to death, and it shouldn't," Buckley said. "It would not be closing down industry, exploration, existing wells, any of that. It just doesn't happen that way."

But it does make for pretty good theater. •

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