Temblor legless lizard moves closer to California endangered species protection

SACRAMENTO, California— The California Department of Fish and Wildlife today advised that the legless lizard Temblor is headed for protection under the state’s endangered species law. The action came in response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Temblor legless lizard is an unusual sand-swimming reptile found only in Kern and Fresno counties in the southwestern San Joaquin Valley. The survival of the species is threatened by the extensive oil and gas drilling in its narrow range.

“I’m thrilled that these unique lizards are closer to protecting against pollution from the oil industry,” said Shaye Wolf, director of climate science at the Center. “The oil and gas industry’s rampant drilling is rapidly destroying what little habitat these animals have left. The state must act quickly to protect these rare lizards before the fossil fuel industry wipes them out. »

Last November, the Center asked the state to protect Temblor legless lizards under the California Endangered Species Act. In June, the California Fish and Game Commission will decide whether to accept the department’s recommendation and grant these endangered lizards candidate status under state law.

A candidate designation triggers a year-long review to determine whether the species should be officially protected under state law. The species is legally protected during the review period.

The Temblor legless lizard is currently known to live at only five sites in Kern and Fresno counties, four of which are within oilfield boundaries and surrounded by extensive oil and gas developments. A total of 31 oil fields overlap the lizard’s restricted range, and more than 98% of its habitat is open to oil and gas development.

Oil and gas drilling threatens the Temblor legless lizard by destroying and fragmenting its habitat, compacting soil, changing soil moisture levels, removing ground cover, and spilling oil and chemicals. Oil and produced water spills plague the lizard’s restricted range, including at least 20 surface spills in recent years.

The Temblor legless lizard is also threatened by urban and industrial development, invasive weeds and non-native feral pigs, and rising temperatures and drier conditions caused by climate change.

In 2019, species experts recommended listing the Temblor legless lizard under both the California Endangered Species Act and federal law.

The Center filed for federal endangered species law protection for the Temblor legless lizard in October 2020. In June 2021, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that the species was eligible for protection. Last month, the Center filed a lawsuit over the agency’s delay in determining whether the lizard deserves protection.

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