CEHMM - Video - NM Agrees to Protect Permian Basin Habitat

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - State and federal officials have signed a conservation agreement to protect more than 387 square miles of habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken and the dunes sagebrush lizard in southeastern New Mexico.

The species, under consideration for federal protection, have been the focal point of a bitter battle among environmentalists, politicians and oil and gas developers in both New Mexico and West Texas.

Land Commissioner Ray Powell says the agreement represents a step toward finding a way to protect the species while allowing for oil and gas development in the Permian Basin.

He points to the industry as an economic driver and contributor to the trust that funds education.

The agreement covers nearly 248,000 acres of state trust land.

Officials say that's largest area to be set aside by a state as part of a conservation agreement.