Lizards and Roads

by Ben Linthicum, Team Leader for the Western MA team

Once again, there I was, walking through the shin high sage brush with my eyes fixed on the ground – looking for any movement. The snow-capped Wind River Mountains on the horizon were put in stark contrast with the scorching heat surrounding me. Even the wind couldn’t give relief from the heat; it just felt like sticking your head in front of an oven. I reconciled the Appalachian woods, full of tightly curled fiddle head ferns, curiously crawling beetles, and numerous types of towering trees, that I had come to love, with this scorched earth. Gritty dirt crunched under my feet with each step, then I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It appeared as they always appear, as if born from the desert earth. Someone shouted “lizard!” and after a flash of bounding legs and outstretched arms, I held a squirming golf-ball sized horned lizard in my hands.

ben_lizardphoto by Ben Linthicum

The resilient and adorable lizard is the reason I came to Wyoming. Reilly, Sara, Liz and I were studying the ecological factors that determined where the lizards liked to live. In other words, why they might live here instead of there.

These little critters were some of the few organisms that had evolved to live in the harsh desert conditions. They were able to digest the hard exoskeleton of ants by fermenting them in their squat bodies. They obtain all the water they need from their food, but when it does rain, special grooves in their scales divert rain water into their mouths, and when you gently rub the top of their heads, they fall asleep.

This week we were looking for lizards in the Jonas gas field, a giant swath of land were the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had leased mineral rights to several oil and gas companies.

But something was off this week: we weren’t finding very many lizards. But just a couple miles outside of the Jonas gas field, we were finding tons of the critters. The tremendous amount of development was causing the disappearance of the horned lizards.

These weeks I spent walking in the desert gave me plenty of time to reflect on my surroundings. With the present rates of desertification, I began to fear I wouldn’t need to mentally reconcile this landscape with the vibrant landscape I call home. Desertification is occurring at a rate of 46,000 square miles a year. Massachusetts is only 10,000 square miles. Left unchecked, the tremendous scale of unsustainable modern industrial practices could create a planet more akin to the parched landscape surrounding me in the Jonas gas field. What kind of world are we creating? A world inhospitable, even to horned lizards, critters that don’t even need to drink water? What space is left for us in such a world? This is why I will be biking this summer, living my values. Living the future I want to see. A future free from these widespread industrial practices and destructive fossil fuels.




We saw this sign by an apple farm between Concord, NH and Lowell, MA. It reads: Politicians – Climate change! Do you care? Will you act?

photo credit: Dineen O’Rourke

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