For Immediate Release, August 4, 2007
Contact: Ileene Anderson, (323) 654-5943 or (323) 490-0223 cell
Desert Tortoise Threatened by
Draft Recovery Plan That Weakens Protections
RENO, Nev.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a new draft “recovery” plan for the threatened desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), which was protected under the Endangered Species Act nearly two decades ago. Though desert tortoise populations have continued to crash since that listing, the new draft plan weakens protections and provides few on-the-ground actions for tortoise conservation.
“This plan weakens tortoise protections and directs the Service to study, instead of stop, the tortoise’s decline — caused by threats like off-road vehicles and livestock grazing,” said Ileene Anderson, a Center for Biological Diversity biologist. “We already know what threatens the desert tortoise, and the Service should immediately act to reduce those threats. This plan would speed up the tortoise’s slide toward extinction.”
In place of providing immediate, firm protections for desert tortoise, the draft plan proposes a time-consuming process of monitoring and adaptive management. The plan provides only vague descriptions of recovery actions and fails to derive those actions from the best available science. For example, it fails to tackle solutions to many of the scientifically recognized threats to desert tortoise, including disease, roads, off-road vehicles, grazing, weeds, increased fire risk, and other causes of habitat degradation.
“Under the proposed plan, the Fish and Wildlife Service is abandoning its legal responsibility to protect the desert tortoise by leaving the animal’s recovery up to local stakeholder groups that lack the scientific expertise to develop recovery strategies,” said Anderson.
“Desert tortoise recovery requires on-the-ground action, but this plan’s focus is ‘planning to plan.’ The current recovery plan provides a science-based roadmap to recovery. But the administration has spent the last two years rewriting and weakening the plan because it finds recovery actions to be politically inconvenient,” said Anderson. “Without an immediate course correction, the administration is effectively pushing the tortoise to extinction.”
This recovery plan may replace a more rigorous and science-based recovery plan that has been in place for over 15 years — a 1994 plan that contains specific on-the-ground conservation recommendations but has never been implemented adequately.
The comments on the proposed draft are due by November 3, 2008, and a copy of the proposed draft plan can be found at http://www.fws.gov/nevada/desert%5Ftortoise/documents/recovery_plan/DraftRevRP_Mojave_Desert_Tortoise.pdf.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 180,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.