Center for Biological Diversity
Protecting endangered species and wild
places of western North America
Monday, July 30, 2001
BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT BEGINS DEFENSE OF GRAZING LIMITATION DECISIONS TO PROTECT DESERT TORTOISE, CONSERVATION GROUPS BACK BLM.
Contact: Daniel Patterson,
Desert Ecologist, Center for Biological Diversity 520.906.2159, 623.5252
BARSTOW, CA The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will start its defense today of decisions to protect the desert tortoise from livestock grazing excesses on Mojave desert habitat, as legal hearings enter a second week.
Resuming this morning at 8:30 am at the Barstow city hall, BLM and environmental-backers the Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Sierra Club will defend science-based positions for endangered species protection and recovery, by seasonally limiting damaging livestock grazing on nearly 500,000 acres of fragile public lands habitat within the 11 million acres administered by BLM in the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA).
The livestock industry will wrap-up its case this morning after six days of argument. Last week's hearings revealed that their consultant witnesses were paid $70-110 per hour for their unsubstantiated testimony. None of the industry's witnesses had expertise on the desert tortoise or had even visited the lands in question.
"The livestock industry paid unqualified consultants to say what they told them to, while our experts are tops in their field who are volunteering their time to explain the scientific facts." said Daniel Patterson, the Center's Desert Ecologist. "This week, BLM and their experts will detail why limiting grazing to protect wildlife is justified and in fact essential to desert ecosystem recovery." He adds, "BLM is moving toward long overdue habitat improvements to benefit the desert tortoise and critical habitat, and that's not too much to ask of ranchers who are grazing the public lands for private gain."
"If the desert tortoise and other imperiled wildlife are to survive, it will be on these public lands," said Karen Schambach, PEER's California Coordinator. "Outside of the ranchers themselves and a handful of local politicians who think they can benefit by bashing BLM and it's employees, I think most Americans would choose survival of these unique species over a few head of cattle." PEER has asked California Attorney General Bill Lockyer and the San Bernardino County Grand Jury to investigate San Bernardino County official's threats and intimidation toward BLM employees, as reported in the Los Angeles Times July 23.
The carefully negotiated CDCA grazing settlement helps BLM partially implement the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's 1994 Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan recommendations for livestock reduction and removal from critical habitat. Cattle and sheep mow down spring annual plants essential to tortoise health and reproduction. The hoofed livestock also trample burrows, killing tortoises inside or wrecking their homes. The CDCA settlement was negotiated to aid desert tortoise recovery by preventing grazing on 285,381 acres of critical and 213,281 acres of essential tortoise habitat during the biologically critical spring and fall seasons. The agency further agreed to prohibit grazing year-round on an additional 11,079 acres of active allotments.
"The BLM could've decided there should be no more desert grazing, but they've only decided to pull cattle off tortoise habitat during the few months when the tortoises need food." said Elden Hughes, longtime desert protection champion with the Sierra Club. "That's a reasonable middle-ground."
U.S. Department of the Interior Administrative Law Judge Harvey C. Sweitzer is presiding over the evidentiary hearings, which are expected go for at least five more days. The judge is expected to decide on the livestock industry's appeal of the BLM decision by August 24.
Conservationists are represented by attorney Jay Tutchton of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund-Denver.
The CDCA grazing settlement is on-line: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/goldenstate/cdca/stip-grazing.pdf