DENVER-- The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to decide whether the Colorado checkered whiptail warrants consideration for Endangered Species Act protection. The Center first petitioned for this lizard — along with 52 other amphibians and reptiles — in July 2012 because habitat loss and other factors are threatening them with extinction.
“Time is running out for this little guy,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center biologist and lawyer focused on protecting amphibians and reptiles. “Because this lizard lacks legal protections, humans continue to destroy its habitat when we should be conserving essential areas. Endangered Species Act protection will change that.”
Colorado checkered whiptails, which grow to about 4 inches, are “parthenogenetic,” which means egg cells develop without fertilization by males and offspring are genetically identical to their mother. This unique, intricately patterned lizard lives in valleys, arroyos, canyons and on hillsides, in areas dominated by plains grassland or juniper woodland. While the whiptail is a “species of special concern” in Colorado, this status does not afford any legal protection for the lizards or their habitats, which are being lost to urbanization and agricultural development.
“Increasingly rare and found only in southeastern Colorado, the Colorado checkered whiptail needs protection under the Endangered Species Act to survive,” said Adkins Giese. “The Endangered Species Act has a nearly perfect record of stopping animals from going extinct — it’s hands-down our best tool for saving this Colorado native.”
Because of habitat destruction, toxic pesticides, the climate crisis and other human causes, nearly one in four amphibians and reptiles is at risk of dying out, scientists say. In fact, although they’ve been around for hundreds of millions of years and survived every major extinction period, now, due largely to human impacts, amphibians and reptiles are dying off at up to 10,000 times the historic extinction rate. This loss is alarming because they play important roles as predators and prey in their ecosystems and are valuable indicators of environmental health.
The Center was joined in its petition for the Colorado checkered whiptail – and dozens of other amphibians and reptiles – by several renowned scientists and herpetologists, including E.O. Wilson, Thomas Lovejoy and Michael Lannoo. More than 200 scientists sent a letter asking the Service to review the status of the petitioned animals.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is required to make an initial finding within 90 days of receiving a petition about whether protections may be warranted. But more than two years later, the agency has not acted. The 90-day finding is the first in a series of required decisions and simply requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the petition presents sufficient information to warrant further consideration, a process that requires few agency resources.