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Flat-tailed horned lizard may get a second chance, thanks to appeals court ruling

June 2, 2009 |  2:13 pm

A flat-tailed Horned Lizard trying to hide in the dried mustard plants in the Coachella Valley Preserve.

One of the country's rarest reptiles, the flat-tailed horned lizard, has been at the center of a fierce debate since it was first proposed for inclusion on the endangered species list in 1993.  Since then, court battles have raged -- with federal wildlife authorities arguing that the lizard is so well-camouflaged that it's nearly impossible to determine it's endangered. 

But biologists say the lizard -- which once roamed large areas of land in Arizona, California and Baja California but now can be found only within the Coachella Valley National Wildlife Refuge -- is in dire straits and needs urgent intervention to save it.  A recent court ruling is seen by both biologists and environmental advocacy groups as a victory, as our colleague Louis Sahagun explains:

In the latest chapter in a long-running battle to keep the lizard safe from urban encroachment, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals recently ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its earlier decisions not to list it as an endangered species.

Environmentalists were elated by the ruling, which rejected a Bush administration policy they said favored development and corporate interests at the expense of the flat-tailed horned lizard and scores of other fragile plants and animals.

"This is the third time in 15 years since the lizard was first proposed for listing that a court has told the Fish and Wildlife Service to go back and review its refusal to protect it," Kara Gillon, senior staff attorney with Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. "We're hoping the third time is the charm. These lizards are running out of time."

As a result of similar lawsuits filed by environmental groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also reconsider previous policies on the Tehachapi slender salamander and the California tiger salamander's Sonoma County population.

For more information on the plight of the flat-tailed horned lizard, check out Sahagun's story and its accompanying photo gallery.

--Lindsay Barnett

Photo: A flat-tailed horned lizard tries to hide in the dried mustard plants in the Coachella Valley Preserve. Credit: Cameron Barrows, PhD.

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