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CA Press:Flat-tailed lizard may be classified as endangered

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Posted by desiree on September 26, 2002 at 23:54:59:

Flat-tailed lizard may be classified as endangered
Ruling will affect Coachella Valley development

By Benjamin Spillman
The Desert Sun
September 26th, 2002

Renewed efforts to put a "charismatic" type of lizard on the governments endangered species list may increase pressure on Coachella Valley cities to adopt a valleywide land management and conservation plan.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering a proposal to designate the flat-tailed horned lizard as a threatened species. The comment period for listing the lizard was recently extended until Oct. 9. A final decision is expected by Dec. 26.

The lizard -- distinguishable by a dark stripe that runs along its flat, spiny body -- is already excluded by development from much of its natural habitat in the Coachella Valley.

Preservationists argue the lizard is a unique part of Southern California.

"Every species should be protected but this species is particularly charismatic and endearing," said Brendan Cummings, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity in Idyllwild. "It looks like a little dinosaur."

Cummings cited the lizards regional ties and traits such as the ability to breathe even while burrowed into fine sand as unique characteristics.

Opponents of the listing point to a decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw a proposal to list the lizard in 1997. At the time the service determined the lizards population was adequate and threats to its habitat had stabilized. The listing process was renewed in December after a judge, in response to a lawsuit by the group Defenders of Wildlife, ordered the government to reconsider its earlier findings.

"There is nothing to suggest that it should be listed," said Roy Denner, president and CEO of the Off Road Business Association, a trade group in Lakeside.

If the lizard is deemed threatened, building within its potential habitat would become more difficult or even impossible.

That could cause complications for cities that do not participate in a proposed plan to offset in advance the impact of development on local wildlife, including the flat-tailed lizard.

The Coachella Valley Multi-Species Plan, an open-space plan for the valley that will protect more than 200,000 acres of open space for wildlife, already includes the lizard in its vision.

If adopted next year, the plan will make it easier for development to occur on land not needed by wildlife.

Communities that sign on to the plan agree to a common blueprint for development that considers species like the lizard in plans for future growth. Those that dont will face the challenge of accommodating threatened and endangered species on their own.

But offsetting potential harm to the lizard would not be impossible, said Doug Evans, city planner for Palm Springs.

City officials have concerns about the plan unrelated to the lizard but Evans said he is optimistic Palm Springs will eventually participate.

Evans said builders already accommodate one endangered reptile, the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, into development plans. The fringe-toed and flat-tailed lizards share habitats.

Others said a new designation for the lizard would be a tough challenge for builders.

If the lizard is considered threatened, getting a permit to build in its habitat would become, "extremely, extremely difficult," said Jim Sullivan, director of environmental resources for the Coachella Valley Association of Governments.

Sullivan said the permitting process can drag on for years because the preservation standards can change.

Participants in the species plan agree in advance to predetermined measures that would protect the flat-tailed lizard.

"The building industry is interested in certainty," Sullivan said.

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