For Immediate Release, September 11, 2009
New Desert Tortoise Translocation Put On Hold
LOS ANGELES— Today, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management halted plans to move an additional 1,000-plus federally and state-listed threatened desert tortoises from their current habitat on Fort Irwin to Bureau of Land Management lands. The Army’s disastrous 2008 desert tortoise translocation has resulted in 252 tortoises deaths in the translocation area after approximately 600 desert tortoises were moved. The Army is now proposing to move the remaining 1,000-plus tortoises onto Bureau of Land Management lands.
“Fort Irwin’s original translocation program was a disaster for tortoises,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We are relieved that the Bureau is putting the new plan on hold until the deadly issues are resolved, which is essential for keeping the declining desert tortoise from extinction.”
Desert tortoise translocation has never been attempted on such a large scale as it has for the Fort Irwin expansion project. Even “successful” small-scale translocations have had a 20-percent mortality rate. These translocations, implemented to help “save” the tortoise, often end up actually 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 finally recognizes what the public has been saying: that the agencies need to take the time to study the severe impact of the previous translocation on the survival of the desert tortoise in the western Mojave recovery unit and put in place a better strategy to protect the desert tortoise,” Anderson said.
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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.