For Immediate Release, October 2, 2007
Michael J. Connor, Western Watersheds Council, (818) 345-0425
Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943
Judge Orders Stay to Protect Public Lands From
Increased Cattle Grazing in Desert Tortoise Habitat
BARSTOW, Calif.— A judge agreed with conservation groups October 1 and ordered the Bureau of Land Management to hold off on its decision to increase cattle grazing on 136,167 acres of public land. This desert region, known as the Ord Mountain Allotment, includes 101,033 acres of federally protected critical habitat for the desert tortoise, within a Desert Wildlife Management Area that the Bureau is supposed to manage to protect threatened desert tortoises and other imperiled animals and plants.
In his decision, Administrative Law Judge Harvey C. Sweitzer agreed with the conservation groups that the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to increase the number of cattle authorized was invalid. The agency had failed to provide a rational basis for an increase in grazing above its own estimates of the carrying capacity of the allotment.
“The Bureau of Land Management cannot continue to make decisions regarding grazing that fail to take into account the true impacts to our public lands and the California state reptile, the desert tortoise,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “And Judge Sweitzer recognized that.”
“Cattle-grazing impacts desert tortoises in many ways. Cattle may trample tortoises, their eggs and their burrows, compete for important food plants, degrade the habitat and promote the spread of weeds and nonnative vegetation” said Dr. Michael J. Connor, California science director at the Western Watersheds Project. He added, “The decision to allow increased grazing on this allotment is particularly bad because not only will it increase the number of cattle that would be grazing in desert tortoise habitat but it also includes provisions to concentrate those cattle in the most sensitive critical habitat areas on the east side of the allotment in dry years, the very years when the tortoises are most at risk.”
The appeal of the agency’s decision was brought by Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Desert Survivors. The conservation groups are demanding that the government complete rangeland health surveys and other assessments needed for a full and informed environmental review that is required by law.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.