Comptroller taps Texas State team for endangered lizard conservation
Texas State University

February, 2017

A Texas State University team led by Thom Hardy, chief science officer at The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, and Michael Forstner, a professor in the Department of Biology and Texas State University System Regents' Professor,has been awarded a $930,000 multi-year project by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts to conduct research and monitor the efforts needed to support implementation of the Texas Conservation Plan (TCP) for the dunes sagebrush lizard. 

The lizard, found only in the shinnery oak dunes of southeastern New Mexico and West Texas, has been a candidate species for listing under the Endangered Species Act by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since 2001. Within the first year of the project, the team will use ground truth data and survey data to extend the existing lizard habitat model developed in New Mexico (a collaboration between the Center of Excellence for Hazardous Materials Management, University of New Mexico, Natural Heritage New Mexico and New Mexico Game and Fish) to Texas. This will include validating the habitat classification scheme and developing a protocol to standardize lizard and habitat monitoring surveys.

“We will have to classify vegetation and land cover before we can apply the New Mexico dunes sagebrush lizard model to Texas,” said Hardy, the principal project investigator. “We’re using a combination of remote sensing from satellite imagery and drone technology to obtain high-resolution, ground truth data to aide in classifying the habitat characteristics.

“This digital record will not only assist in the required vegetation and land use classifications, but also provide enhanced quantitative data linked to the lizard surveys necessary for dunes sagebrush lizard model validation,” he said.

Then, they will then complement the data with lizard detections as part of evaluating lizard monitoring techniques and testing issues such as observer bias. 

“Ideally we would be able to extend the survey methods from occupancy data to enable future estimates of abundance,” Forstner said.

Following the New Mexico model extension and validation, the team will continue to monitor and track lizard distributions and population trends as well as quantitative assessments of habitat characteristics to determine whether the TCP provides a net benefit to the lizard. Throughout the project, the team will establish a Net Benefit Analysis Methodology and develop recommendations for long-term survey techniques that target the evaluation and effectiveness of lizard mitigation strategies and meet the TCP compliance requirements.

The purpose of the TCP is to promote compliance with conserving the dunes sagebrush lizard habitat, while maintaining economic development and fiscal stability. Threats to the lizard include habitat removal, fragmentation and degradation as a result of oil and gas development and shinnery oak removal.

For more information about the dunes sagebrush lizard, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services website at www.fws.gov/southwest/es/DSL.html.

About The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment

The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment was named following a generous gift from The Meadows Foundation in August 2012. The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment is dedicated to environmental research, stewardship, education and service. The center is led by renowned conservationist Andrew Sansom, Ph.D.

About the Texas State University Department of Biology

The Texas State University Department of Biology is dedicated to creating and communicating knowledge of the life sciences. The multidisciplinary department serves nearly 14,000 students each year, emphasizing inquiry-based and hands-on instruction. Learn more at www.bio.txstate.edu.