Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 8, 2016

Contact: Ileene Anderson, (323) 490-0223 or

Legal Challenge Launched Over Largest-ever Relocation of Protected Desert Tortoises

Marine Corps Plans to Move 1,100 West Mojave Tortoises, Up to Half Unlikely to Survive

TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a notice of intent to challenge plans to relocate more than 1,100 protected desert tortoises in Southern California, the largest such project ever attempted. The notice, filed under the Endangered Species Act, argues that federal agencies have failed to fully examine how the relocations might harm the tortoises in the Mojave Desert. The relocations are intended to accommodate expansion of the Marine Corps’ base at Twentynine Palms into 262 square miles of the desert.

“This proposed translocation is a disaster for the already at-risk desert tortoises in the west Mojave Desert,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist with the Center. “This population has declined by 50 percent in the past 10 years. If the past is any guide, up to half of the tortoises won’t survive this relocation, pushing these tortoises in the west Mojave closer to extinction.”

The Center is challenging the failure of the Bureau of Land Management and Marine Corps to consult adequately with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and fully address impacts both to translocated tortoises and to the habitat and tortoises already living in the relocation sites. 

Desert tortoise translocation has never been attempted on such a large scale. In 2009 the U.S. Army stopped a large translocation of desert tortoises from their Fort Irwin expansion area due to massive tortoise deaths. Despite the impending move slated for late March, the translocation plan has not been released to the public. Translocations are implemented to help “save” tortoises, but often end up hurting or killing the animals.

Having survived tens of thousands of years in California’s deserts, desert tortoises have declined precipitously in recent years, particularly in the west Mojave. Population-genetics studies show that desert tortoises in the area, including the Twentynine Palms tortoises, are distinctly different from their relatives to the north, east and south. This finding sheds light on why increased conservation is more important than ever. 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. 

“This massive translocation proposal is being rushed through the process this spring without fully considering how it may affect the already declining tortoise population in the western Mojave,” said Anderson. “What we should be doing is recovering this population, not pushing it closer to extinction.” 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 990,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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