A few years ago the state of Texas helped fight calls to list the dunes sagebrush lizard as endangered by supporting an oil industry-backed foundation to oversee lizard habitat and promote habitat conservation efforts. Conservation groups were loudly skeptical of the Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation (THCF) due to its close ties to the oil industry. The lizard habitat falls within the Permian Basin in West Texas and Southeastern New Mexico, an area of intensive oil and gas development for many years.
The action was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman, “State fires organization formed by big oil to manage threatened lizard“:
In 2013 and 2014, an oil and gas industry-funded organization charged with overseeing the protection of a rare lizard in West Texas’ oil patch failed to perform any of the habitat restoration work it was supposed to do, according to state records. Nor did the Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation monitor drillers and other landowners to ensure they were performing conservation measures to protect the dunes sagebrush lizard.
My view has been that oil-industry ties might have been the best thing possible for the THCF, given that the oil industry has extremely strong incentives to avoid an endangered listing for the lizard. I assumed those incentives would motivate action to protect lizard habitat.
I may have been wrong.
At the time [the plan was implemented], industry and state officials led by then-Comptroller Susan Combs hailed the arrangement, called the Texas Conservation Plan, as a landmark compromise that would protect both the lizard and the Texas economy without onerous federal regulations. Conservationists warned that placing the well-being of the species in the hands of a private organization, out of public sight, was fraught with risk. Two organizations brought an unsuccessful lawsuit to stop the plan.
Critics said news of the foundation’s failure to perform basic oversight of the fragile species appeared to confirm some of their fears. [Link in source.]
I say may have been wrong because so far there is very little public information about the termination of THCF beyond what was reported by the Austin American-Statesman. The THCF disputes the characterization of their efforts. The newspaper reported:
Jason Brooks, executive director of the foundation, confirmed that the foundation’s contract had been terminated, but disputed the comptroller’s account. He said the state and the foundation simply disagreed over definitions of the word “mitigation,” and he insisted his organization was properly overseeing conservation efforts on West Texas oil and gas land.
“We were out in the field doing what we were supposed to be doing. Our participants are to be commended for doing what they’ve done,” he said.
The story noted no evidence that the lizard population had been harmed by the actions or inactions of the THCF. Perhaps such evidence will be revealed by subsequent study. Alternatively, if no harm is found from the possible neglect, perhaps the conclusion is either (A) the actions the THCF took were effective enough and beneficial since implemented at a lower cost, or (B) the lizard is more resilient than anticipated.
It would be interesting to compare lizard population surveys in the Texas portion of the Permian Basin to lizard population surveys in New Mexico, looking at surveys both before and after the THCF was in charge. The state of New Mexico implemented a more traditional state government-private company cooperative habitat management program.