TransWild Alliance

Natural Resources Blog

Flat-tailed Horned Lizard No Longer Protected Under ESA

Flat-tailed Horned LizardAfter a court-ordered analysis of the flat-tailed horned lizard’s status, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined threats to the species “are not as significant as earlier believed” and that the species does not need protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Among numerous other threats to the species, the construction of roads significantly contributes to loss and degradation of the lizard’s historic habitat. And what about all the new renewable energy projects in the desert, pushing out fragile species like the desert tortoise?

When facing a predator or other potential danger, the flat-tailed horned lizard immediately freezes. On a road, this leads to lizard roadkill. In response, Arizona DOT has fenced 18 miles of the Robert A. Vaughan Expressway in Yuma County with special reptile fencing, funneling the lizards to crossings under the highway.

Now FWS has determined that loss and degradation of the lizard’s habitat largely occurred in the historical past. But it seems that road construction, urban development, and energy projects will continue to progress indefinitely and will certainly continue to impact the lizard. Protection measures such as range studies, maintaining conservation management areas, and including the species in Habitat Conservation Plans have, in part, resulted from the FWS “threatened” listing. Now that the lizard is no longer a listed species, will these species-specific conservation plans and strategies continue to be maintained?

Get more details from this Yuma Sun article “Agency takes lizard off endangered list”
History of the lizard’s on-again off-again protection can be found on the FWS Arizona Ecological Services website

Video for flat-tailed horned lizard
▶ 7:04

Project to Document Wildlife Sightings along I-90

I-90 Wildlife WatchIn participation with national “Give Wildlife a Brake” week, public-private partners launched I-90 Wildlife Watch, a citizen-based wildlife monitoring project that invites motorists to report wildlife and roadkill sightings along I-90 in the Snoqualmie Pass region of Washington. Some species that can be observed in this area include deer, elk, black bears, cougars, bobcats, coyotes, and skunks.

I-90 Wildlife Watch asks travelers on I-90 between North Bend and Easton to report observations of live or dead wildlife at The user-friendly website, designed by the Western Transportation Institute, includes an interactive map to assist people in pinpointing the location of their sightings, and a brief series of questions about animals sighted.

This program complements other wildlife monitoring work being conducted by the Washington State DOT and its partners, as part of the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project. I-90 crosses the Cascades at Snoqualmie Pass, where traffic volumes average 28,000 vehicles per day and are increasing by about 2.1% per year. While the interstate is a vital east-west transportation corridor in Washington, it also bisects a critical north-south wildlife corridor for animals moving throughout the Cascade Mtns. Through the I-90 Project, WSDOT will help re-connect the north-south wildlife corridors by constructing 24 large wildlife crossing structures along a 15-mile stretch of highway between Hyak and Easton. Structures will range in size from enlarged culverts to 150-foot-wide wildlife bridges.

“I-90 Wildlife Watch is a very timely initiative to engage motorists in reporting wildlife observations during the first year of construction associated with the I-90 Project,” said Jason Smith, Environmental Manager for WSDOT South Central Region. “The information reported by motorists will complement ongoing research to determine which species of wildlife are trying to cross the highway today, and will allow us to assess the ultimate effectiveness of the crossing structures following their construction.”

– Report your own sightings on the I-90 Wildlife Watch website
– More info available on Conservation Northwest’s website and the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project website
– Humane Society of the United States “Give Wildlife a Brake” Week
– The Seattle Times: “New website lets drivers track wildlife along stretch of I-90”

Highways Threaten Desert Tortoises in Mojave Desert

Desert TortoisesCheck out this amazing and information March 2010 joint USGS & USFWS video on threats to desert tortoise habitat and the recovery efforts of USGS scientists:
“The Heat Is On: Desert Tortoises and Survival”

Found in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico, desert tortoises are listed as a federally threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Desert tortoises inhabit areas with well-drained, sandy loam soils in plains and alluvial fans. They live in areas with native grasses and remain in underground burrows when they are inactive. They’re even able to live where ground temperatures may exceed 140 degrees F!

Number of individuals remaining in the wild: 10,000 – 1,000,000

**Why are roads bad news for this species?**
In California alone, desert tortoise habitat has been reduced by 50 to 60 percent since the 1920s and habitat destruction and fragmentation is still a threat. Roads serve as corridors for invasive species, which have particularly detrimental effects on native desert grasses that tortoises depend on. As new roads are built, they attract ravens, natural predators to tortoises.

Threats to desert tortoises include:
* highways and roads through tortoise habitat
* mortality on roadways
* human development
* non-native invasive plant species
* unnatural burn regimes
* siting of solar and wind energy projects
* climate change
* ravens as predators (increasing dramatically in the Mojave Desert due to urban sprawl and power lines)

For more facts and info about desert tortoises and their habitat, check out this Defenders of Wildlife factsheet

What can you do to make a difference in desert tortoise recovery?
❖ If you see one on the roadway, carefully and safely move the tortoise onto the side of the road that it was facing.
❖ If you encounter a tortoise in the wild (not on a road), leave it alone.
❖ Keep the desert clean and don’t litter. Tortoises can get tangled in trash, and garbage attracts ravens and other predators that feed on desert tortoises, their eggs and hatchlings.
❖ “Raven-proof” your trash. Stash it in containers with tightly secured lids and don’t put it out until collection day. Make sure dumpsters are closed and secure at all times.
❖ Encourage landfill managers to reduce raven attractants.
❖ Don’t water your lawn to the point it runs over the curb or fills in depressions. Water early in the morning when soil is most absorbent.
❖ Landscape with native plants.
❖ Encourage power companies to inspect their lines for raven nests, to remove any they find and to install underground lines whenever possible.
❖ Keep dogs leashed at all times.
❖ Don’t drive, bike or walk off trails or roads.
❖ Watch for tortoises on roads and trails.
❖ Don’t release pet tortoises in the desert. A pet tortoise probably won’t survive in the wild and may infect resident tortoises with disease.
❖ Stay informed. For up-to-date info on desert tortoises, visit this site.

Becky Beard
Habitat & Highways Campaign Coordinator
Defenders of Wildlife

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén