‘Year of the Lizard’ comes to Conn.

This year, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) is out to protect the state’s only native lizard species, the five-lined skink.

DEEP’s efforts to protect these lizards — which are currently on the state’s threatened species list — are in conjunction with the nonprofit Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s 2012 “Year of the Lizard” campaign. The purpose of the campaign is to educate people on the diversity of lizard species nationwide and worldwide in an effort to increase awareness about lizard conservation efforts, said Valorie Titus, co-chair of the Northeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.

“There are serious problems in North America regarding reptiles and amphibians, and most people don’t even realize it,” said Terry Riley, federal agencies coordinator for the U.S. National Parks Service.

The campaign aims to inform public and private land managers of habitat management guidelines that can be used to protect the environments on which reptiles and lizards depend for survival, Riley added. Partner organizations also plan activities and provide the public with educational information about local lizard species, he said. The importance of the 2012 campaign, he said, is to teach the general public, including farmers and ranchers, the impact of agriculture and grazing on lizard habitats.

PARC’S goal, he said, is to cooperate with its partners to increase awareness on a wide variety of lizard species — from endangered iguanas in the Caribbean to the Gila Monsters of the American southwest deserts. PARC conducted a similar campaign in 2011 with its “Year of the Turtle” initiative.

Priya Nanjappa, amphibian, reptile and invasive species coordinator at the North American Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, said she thinks lizard conservation efforts do not receive enough attention from the public. Some lizards, she added, can be difficult to find and research because they exist in hyperspecific regions. One goal of PARC’s campaign, she said, is to clear up misconceptions regarding lizard species, and she added that she feels many people assume lizards are aggressive, venomous and dull-colored.

Riley said that while the campaign’s success can be difficult to measure due to the diversity of lizard species across the continent, he has seen PARC’s efforts make steady gains. Last month, he said, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture announced a new program that would focus on protecting seven species of wildlife, including two species of turtles. The program, Riley added, marks the first instance that the money from the 2008 Farm Bill, which provides billions of dollars to support conservation programs, will be used towards conserving amphibian or reptile species.

“Most of us grew up thinking ‘Oh, we can pick up this turtle and take it home’ or ‘We can pick up this frog,’ ” Riley said. “Most people in the United States and Canada have no idea that turtles and amphibians and frogs are in trouble.”

The Northeast Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s annual meeting begins on July 24 in New Hampshire.


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