Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, December 9, 2014

Contact: Rob Mrowka, (702) 249-5821

New Study Highlights Harms to Tortoises, Need for Better Protections at Nevada's Gold Butte

LAS VEGAS— A new U.S. Geological Survey study finds conclusive evidence that imperiled desert tortoises are harmed by livestock grazing and off-road vehicles, highlighting the need for better protection of tortoises in the Gold Butte area of the Mojave Desert northeast of Las Vegas.

“Grazing and ORVs are taking a terrible toll on desert tortoises. If these rare tortoises are going to survive at healthy levels, we need to give them more protection, and that can start in Gold Butte,” said Rob Mrowka, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This study in the west Mojave applies to all of the Mojave.”

A large part of the Gold Butte area provides habitat critical for the desert tortoise, as well as other rare species. And yet more than 1,000 cows have been allowed to trespass for over 20 years on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and the area has more than 500 miles of roads and trails open to motorized vehicle use. The USGS study found that livestock grazing and off-road vehicle use are resulting in a significant decline in tortoise numbers in the west Mojave, compared with areas where these uses have been excluded.

“The results of this study highlight the abysmal failure of the agency to adequately conserve a species afforded protections under the Endangered Species Act”, said Mrowka.

A key finding of the study is that livestock grazing and roads and trails result in profound changes to native vegetation, largely through the introduction of exotic species that replace the native plants tortoises like to eat. The exotic vegetation also results in increased frequency and severity of wildfires. Unrestricted grazing means cattle are present year-round, so there is little vegetation left for the tortoises to eat before they emerge from their burrows in the spring and after summer rains. Cows and ORVs also trample and collapse tortoise burrows.

“It’s painfully obvious that it’s time for a new management regime at Gold Butte,” said Mrowka. “What makes the most sense would be to create a Gold Butte National Monument and turn its management over to the National Park Service, whose mission places it in a better position to provide the needed changes in management.”

The Center has a notice of intent to sue the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the failure to protect tortoises from the impacts of the trespass grazing, and are carefully monitoring the federal response to rancher Cliven Bundy’s refusal to remove the cattle at Gold Butte.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 800,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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