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Horned lizard could go back on threatened species list

January 11, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is renewing a 1993 proposal to list the flat-tailed horned lizard as a threatened species.

A similar listing in 1998 by the service for Pierson's milkvetch closed major portions of the Algodones Dunes to motorized off-road vehicles.

A significant portion of the lizard's habitat, more than 100,000 acres, is in Imperial County, said Greg Thomsen, field manager of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's El Centro office.

The service describes the lizard as small and pale-gray to light rusty brown in color with a flat body and dagger-like head spines. The lizard feeds primarily on ants and other insects.


It's difficult to answer how threatened the lizard is, University of Texas zoologist Wendy Hodges said.

"I believe it is threatened as opposed to endangered, but it needs to have some protection now in order to prevent further endangerment," Hodges said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service's Carlsbad field office is the lead agency on the proposal, Thomsen said.

The lizard lives mainly in desert flat lands. It does not prefer sand dunes, said Jane Hendron, spokeswoman for the service's Carlsbad office.

One area the service knows where the lizards live is Ocotillo Wells vehicle recreation area. Other areas include parts of the Anza Borrego state park, parts of the Coachella Valley and large parts of the Imperial Valley, Hendron said.

The office is under court order to make a decision by December, she said.

The Carlsbad office has been under criticism in recent years and was the subject of a federal General Accounting Office audit in January 2001.

The report's abstract states:

"Because the Carlsbad office does not maintain its project files in accordance with federal internal control standards and FWS' guidelines, there has been confusion between the office and its customers on what was agreed to and why. In addition, without adequate documentation, managers and others have a difficult time determining whether the status of a project is justified."

Hendron said the audit found the office did not have a centralized filing system but "we have been rectifying the situation."

The audit never questioned the science the office used on which it based its decisions, she said.

After the first proposal to list the lizard, the service signed a conservation agreement in 1997 with other federal and state agencies, including the BLM, the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy, the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

The agreement was to put in place a management plan for the lizard. The service then withdrew the proposal to list the lizard as threatened.

The Imperial County Board of Supervisors plans to discuss the Fish and Wildlife Service's proposal at its meeting Jan. 15.

Information can be found locally from the BLM office in El Centro.

The public comment period on the proposal ends at 5 p.m. April 25. Requests for a public hearing must be received by the Carlsbad office before the close of business Feb. 11.

Comments and information must be submitted in writing to: Field Supervisor, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office, 2730 Loker Ave., West, Carlsbad, CA 92008. Questions should be directed to Sandy Vissman or Christopher Otahal at 431-9440.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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