Start watching
Tending Nature poster 2021

Tending Nature

Start watching

Southland Sessions

Start watching

Earth Focus

Start watching

Reporter Roundup

Start watching

City Rising

Start watching

Lost LA

Start watching
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

Citing Federal Inaction, Group Wants Lizard Protected By State

Flat-tailed horned lizard | Photo: Jim Rorabaugh/USFWS

Environmentalists are asking the state to list a rare Southern California lizard as Endangered, citing decades of federal inaction on the dwindling species.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission Monday to list the flat-tailed horned lizard (Phrynosoma mcallii) as Endangered under the California Endangered Species Act. The group says that repeated refusal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the species under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) means the lizard isn't sufficiently protected from off-road vehicles, energy development, and other human activity throughout its habitat.

Though USFWS proposed to list flat-tails as a threatened species as early as 1982, the agency has declined to list the lizard four times since then. The agency's main rationale: flat-tailed horned lizards are hard to find and thus hard to count, and USFWS says that that means we don't know how many are actually out there, and therefore we don't know whether their numbers are dwindling.

"Because there are no protections for this imperiled species under the Federal Endangered Species Act and the current conservation actions are inadequate to protect the species and its habitat in California," reads the CBD petition to the Fish and Game Commission, "petitioners seek to list the FTHL [flat-tailed horned lizard] as endangered under California's Endangered Species Act."

Flat-tailed horned lizards are indeed hard to spot: their coloration blends well with the sandy soils they tend to frequent, and when they spot a potential threat they tend to freeze in place. Even experienced herpetologists specializing in horned lizards have trouble finding flat-tailed horned lizards.

That fact means that it's hard to nail down what constitutes the species' historic range, given that no surveys were done for the lizards prior to the massive alteration of the lizards' likely stronghold in the Imperial Valley when agriculture got started there in the early Twentieth Century.

Nonetheless, what estimates we do have of the species' lost habitat in California range upwards of fifty percent. Sightings of the lizards have indeed been dropping across much of the species' range, especially in the development-addicted Coachella Valley where much of the suitable habitat for the species has been converted to agriculture or urban development.

The lizards, which generally measure two to four inches from their snouts to the bases of their tails, are also threatened by invasive species encroaching on their habitat. Chief among those threatening invasives are Sahara mustard, which colonizes the sandy soils the lizards prefer, and Argentine ants, which displace the native harvester ant species that make up the lizard's primary food source.

In lieu of listing under the federal Endangered Species Act, state and federal agencies signed a conservation agreement in 1997 to manage threats to flat-tailed horned lizards from human activity. The existence of that agreement was cited by USFWS in 2011 as part of its rationale for denying the lizard protected status under ESA.

But CBD staff point out that that agreement hasn't prevented destructive inroads into the lizard's shrinking habitat, citing developments like the 100-acre Ocotillo Sol solar project near El Centro, and the recent reopening of more than 60 square miles of the Algodones Dunes to off-road vehicle use.

"This charming little lizard used to be fairly common in parts of the Sonoran Desert, but it's been declining throughout its range in recent years," said CBD biologist Ileene Anderson. "A 1997 voluntary conservation agreement was supposed to help the lizard recover but clearly it isn't working. State protection will give this lizard a fighting chance at survival."

Support Provided By
Support Provided By
Read More
un mazo de juez de madera

Justicia retrasada: tribunales abrumados por el atraso de la pandemia

Desde la manutención de los hijos hasta el fraude de seguros, los casos judiciales se retrasan en todo California. Solo la mitad de los casos civiles y penales se resolvieron el verano pasado en comparación con las cifras anteriores a la pandemia. “La justicia no se ha cerrado. La justicia se ha ralentizado”, según un grupo de abogados.
A gavel on a table

Justice Delayed: Courts Overwhelmed by Pandemic Backlog

From child support to insurance fraud, court cases are delayed throughout California. Only half as many civil and criminal cases were resolved last summer compared with pre-pandemic numbers. “Justice has not shut down. Justice has slowed down,” according to an attorneys’ group.
People pull up in their vehicles for Covid-19 vaccines in the parking lot of The Forum in Inglewood, California on January 19, 2021. | FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

L.A. County Expands COVID Vaccines to Residents 65 And Older

L.A. County began scheduling COVID-19 vaccination appointments for those aged 65 and older today, but limited supplies and uncertainty about future allocations has left the inoculation effort shrouded in doubt.