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For Immediate Release, August 5, 2009

Contact: Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 490-0223 (cell); (323) 654-5943 (office), 

Feds Propose New Desert Tortoise Translocation Despite Past Disaster

LOS ANGELES— The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Department of the Army on Friday released an environmental assessment that proposes to move more than 1,000 desert tortoises from their current habitat, despite the previous disastrous desert tortoise translocation in 2008. To date, of the approximately 600 desert tortoises that were moved in 2008, 252 tortoises have died in the translocation area. Many of the deaths (169) were the direct result of canid predation. The Bureau is providing the public only 15 days – until August 14, 2009 – to comment on the upcoming plan to move an additional 1000 tortoises.

 “Fort Irwin’s original translocation program was disastrous for tortoises, and it is unfathomable that they are proposing essentially the same disaster for 1,000 more,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.“ This species is already threatened with extinction, and this proposal is destined to kill off even more of the population.”

Desert tortoise translocation has never been attempted on such a large scale as it has for the Fort Irwin project. Even “successful” small-scale translocations have had a more than 20 percent mortality rate. Now, the translocations, along with other threats, are pushing the tortoise closer to extinction.

Having survived tens of thousands of years in California’s deserts, desert tortoises have declined precipitously in recent years. The crash of populations is due to numerous factors, including disease; crushing by vehicles; military, industrial, and suburban development; habitat degradation; and predation by dogs and ravens. Because of its dwindling numbers, the desert tortoise – California’s official state reptile – is now protected under both the federal and California endangered species acts.

Population-genetics studies have recently shown that desert tortoises in the western Mojave desert, including the Fort Irwin tortoises, are distinctly different from their relatives to the north, east, and south. This finding sheds new light on why increased conservation and translocation success is more important than ever for the Fort Irwin effort.

“The Bureau of Land Management and the Army continue to downplay the impact of this project on the survival of the desert tortoise in the western Mojave recovery unit,” Anderson said. “Releasing the notice on a Friday afternoon, providing only a 15-day comment period in August, and not immediately notifying the interested public gives the perception that the Bureau and Army are not really interested in the public’s participation.”

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The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with more than 225,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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