Feds Propose New Desert Tortoise Translocation Despite Past Disaster

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 490-0223 (cell); (323) 654-5943 (office), ianderson@biologicaldiversity.org 

Feds Propose New Desert Tortoise Translocation Despite Past Disaster

LOS ANGELES - LOS ANGELES- The U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Department
of the Army on Friday released an environmental assessment that
proposes to move more than 1,000 desert tortoises
from their current habitat, despite the previous disastrous desert
tortoise translocation in 2008. To date, of the approximately 600
desert tortoises that were moved in 2008, 252 tortoises have died in
the translocation area. Many of the deaths (169) were the direct result
of canid predation. The Bureau is providing the public only 15 days -
until August 14, 2009 - to comment on the upcoming plan to move an
additional 1000 tortoises.

 "Fort Irwin's original
translocation program was disastrous for tortoises, and it is
unfathomable that they are proposing essentially the same disaster for
1,000 more," said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for
Biological Diversity." This species is already threatened with
extinction, and this proposal is destined to kill off even more of the
population."

Desert tortoise translocation has never
been attempted on such a large scale as it has for the Fort Irwin
project. Even "successful" small-scale translocations have had a more
than 20 percent mortality rate. Now, the translocations, along with
other threats, are 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 and the Army continue to downplay the impact of this project
on the survival of the desert tortoise in the western Mojave recovery
unit," Anderson said. "Releasing the notice on a Friday afternoon,
providing only a 15-day comment period in August, and not immediately
notifying the interested public gives the perception that the Bureau
and Army are not really interested in the public's participation."

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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