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Scott Valley Protect Our Water – POW – in Siskiyou County, California
Jul 19, 2012
From American Stewards of the Range
Coordination Works | By Dan Byfield | July 2, 2012
On June 14, 2012, American Stewards of Liberty had a remarkable victory. After a year of working with the oil and gas industry, eight counties in Texas and New Mexico and one soil and water conservation district, we prevented the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) from listing a three-inch lizard known as the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard (DSL) as endangered.
Although we have had critical victories fighting the listing of species using the coordination process before (such as the Sonoran Desert Tortoise), last month’s victory was a new milestone. The DSL has been a “candidate” species since 1994, meaning the Service has believed it to be endangered since that time. In 2011 they made the decision to move it to the official “endangered” list, providing it the full protection of federal law. Using the coordination process, local leaders did more than just prevent the listing; they moved it off the list, entirely.
Statewide politicians, universities and government bureaucrats are taking credit for the victory, but it was the four counties of Ward, Gaines, Winkler, and Andrews from Texas, Chaves, Eddy, Lea, and Roosevelt from New Mexico, and the Sandhills Soil and Water Conservation District from Texas who stood firm and backed the Service down.
For us at American Stewards, it all started in April of 2011 when Tim Dunn, president of CrownQuest, an independent oil and gas company located in Midland, Texas, called us to help his industry fight and possibly stop the Service from listing the lizard.
He introduced us to the Ben Shepperd, executive director of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association in Midland, who upon hearing what we did hired us to begin organizing all the counties where over 20 percent of our nation’s oil and gas exploration occurs in a region known as the Permian Basin.
Ben introduced us to all the county judges and commissioners who all agreed to use our coordination strategy against the Service to stop them from listing the DSL. Our first step was to draft all the resolutions that the counties and conservation district adopted stating: 1) they opposed the listing, 2) the science was flawed, and 3) they demanded coordination with the Service. We then drafted the cover letters to the Service and from that point forward, the Service was publicly noticed and legally bound to begin coordinating with the counties and soil and water district.
It was obvious to everyone after we all began reviewing their science that it was totally inadequate and agenda-driven. We knew we had an amazing opportunity to use the Endangered Species Act to prove they didn’t have what was needed to list the DSL.
We then began, with the help of the PBPA, to locate the most credentialed biologists in the country to analyze the science the Service relied upon and to perform studies where data was lacking. As it turned out, we had the brightest biologists in our own backyard in Lubbock, Texas at Texas Tech University. Once they began reviewing the government’s science and our biologists started performing their own studies, all the new data pointed to the same conclusion; the lizard was not endangered.
Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the only information the Service can consider in deciding to list a species is the “best scientific and commercial data available.” They are directed to do this after they have taken “into account those efforts…being made by any…political subdivision of a state…to protect such species…”
So, our plan was to organize the counties, demand coordination, hire expert scientists to put together the best scientific data available, and force the Service to take into account the local efforts.
In September of 2011, we had our one and only coordination meeting with the Service where we utilized the language from the ESA and the Information Quality Act forcing the Service to consider our new science and, at the same time, we destroyed the credibility of their science they depended on to make their decision.
It was after this meeting that Wally Murphy, a Field Operation’s Supervisor from the Service’s
Albuquerque office came up to me and very quietly asked: “If we don’t list the lizard, will you defend us in court if we get sued by the environmentalists?”
My answer was a resounding “YES!”
From that point forward, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refused to coordinate with any of our other government entities because they knew we had them boxed into a corner. But, that didn’t stop us or the counties. We continued our strategy through correspondence where we presented the Service with new scientific studies and continued to peer-review their science to show how inadequate it actually was.