LOS ANGELES— The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission today to protect the rare and vanishing flat-tailed horned lizard as an endangered species. Habitat loss, off-road vehicles and global warming are pushing this rare horned lizard toward extinction.
“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 Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist with the Center. “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.”
The flat-tailed horned lizard once inhabited large regions of the Sonoran Desert in Southern California, but urban sprawl and agricultural development have destroyed much of its habitat. Only one small population remains in the Coachella Valley, where the lizards were once abundant. The animals face serious ongoing threats from development and off-road vehicles, which can crush them easily because of the “freeze in place” strategy they adopt when threatened. They’re also threatened by transmission lines, roads, global warming and U.S. border-related stresses. The lizard’s primary prey, harvester ants, have also been hard-hit by competition with invasive argentine ants, habitat loss from invasive plants, and pesticides.
The voluntary Interagency Conservation Agreement, which has governed lizard management since 1997, has failed to prevent declines of the species. This agreement does not protect adequate lizard habitat and has been ineffective in reducing key threats. For example, the Bureau of Land Management recently opened more than 43,000 previously protected acres of lizard habitat in the Algodones Dunes in Imperial County to destructive and intensive off-road vehicle use. The Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area, designated as a lizard “research area” under the agreement, is severely degraded due to permitted and unrestricted off-road vehicle driving, and the other lizard management areas have been similarly damaged by legal and illegal ORV use.
As the common name suggests, the flat-tailed horned lizard has a broad, flattened tail and long, sharp horns on its head, Adults range from 2.5 to 4.3 inches long, excluding the tail. In California, the flat-tailed horned lizard inhabits portions of the Sonoran Desert in Southern California’s California Desert Conservation Area in Riverside, Imperial and San Diego counties.