Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

Hyundai Track Plan Threatens Desert & Endangered Wildlife
Conservation groups challenge Bush administration permits

NEWS RELEASE: for immediate release Wed., Feb. 18, 2004

Daniel R. Patterson, Ecologist, Center for Biological Diversity 520.623.5252 x306
Cynthia Wilkerson, Defenders of Wildlife 916.313.5810

LOS ANGELES -- The Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife today filed a lawsuit against the Bush administration’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) over permits issued to Hyundai Motor Company and California City to build an automotive test track in some of California’s most beautiful and wild desert lands. The project would result in the destruction and degradation of nearly 4,500 acres of high quality desert wildlands that are home to several threatened species, including the Mojave ground squirrel and desert tortoise.

"The Bush administration is jeopardizing endangered species by unwisely rushing construction permits before securing conservation lands," said Daniel R. Patterson, Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's unacceptable that Interior Sec. Norton is permitting Hyundai to kill 54 desert tortoises -- this would be a severe impact to the endangered and crashing West Mojave population."

“The construction of this test track will devastate some of California’s most pristine desert wildlands and will destroy the habitat of many of our state’s threatened species. We believe the Fish and Wildlife Service violated federal environmental law when it approved this project without full analysis of the effect it would have on our lands and the species that inhabit them.” stated Kim Delfino, California Program Director for Defenders of Wildlife.

The area designated for construction encompasses 4,500 acres near California City. The Desert Tortoise that inhabits this area is a large, herbivorous reptile that has been devastated by habitat loss and disease. The FWS and tortoise experts spent four years developing a strong Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan, but federal agencies have failed to fully implement the plan’s components and the tortoise remains threatened.

The FWS approved the destruction of 4,500 acres of habitat and the “incidental take” of up to 54 tortoises in exchange for the future purchase of 3,200 acres of “compensation lands,” but that land has not yet been identified. The FWS acknowledges that since the “compensation” lands may not provide adequate habitat for tortoises, a contingency plan must be developed at some time in the future, but details of that plan have yet to be developed as well.

Hibernating tortoises within the construction zone are currently being taken out of their burrows and boxed into on-site artificial burrows while they wait for translocation to an as-yet-to-be-determined location in early April. This handling of tortoises stresses the animals increasing the chances of illness and death. While up to 20 tortoises may be removed from this project area, an unknown number of juveniles and eggs will be destroyed because they are nearly impossible to locate during hibernation. This is particularly concerning because 2003 was a good reproductive year and numerous juveniles will likely not be detected before they are crushed by construction.

Although the eventual translocation site has not been finalized, the preferred site is located within an area of desert tortoise critical habitat where experimental translocations are prohibited by the Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan. “Translocation plans for desert tortoise have notoriously low rates of success due to the increased spread of disease and other factors,” stated Cynthia Wilkerson, California Species Associate for Defenders of Wildlife. “The approved translocation plan is admittedly an experiment and threatens not only the tortoises that will be moved, but those that currently live in and around the translocation site.”


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