Probe Into Misappropriation of Desert Tortoise Money

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Probe Into Misappropriation of Desert Tortoise Money

Former Red Cliffs Desert Reserve Administrator Charges Utah County Commission

WASHINGTON - Federal funds to protect the Mojave Desert tortoise in Utah were
misused by local Utah officials to plan a freeway and construct a
building, according to a former top county employee. Those charges,
detailed in correspondence released today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER), are under federal investigation.

For
more than 14 years, William Meador oversaw the Red Cliffs Desert
Reserve, a 62,000-acre expanse in southern Utah set aside to provide
habitat for the desert tortoise, a federally listed threatened species.
Meador, a PhD wildlife biologist, worked for Washington County, Utah,
until he was removed in late 2008 in a dispute over the County
Commissioners' diversion of funds and violations of a federal permit.

Recovery
of the desert tortoise has been a high federal priority, with more
funds devoted to the reptile than to some more charismatic species such
as the bald eagle, gray wolf and grizzly bear. In letters sent to
federal agencies and congressional appropriators, Meador outlines
widespread misappropriation by county commissioners of funds for desert
tortoise habitat:

  • $50 million to acquire desert tortoise
    habitat was instead earmarked by the county for a freeway slated to cut
    through the last viable tortoise population in the state;
  • $200,000
    of money for a tortoise Habitat Conservation Plan was transferred to
    the Utah Department of Natural Resources to construct a building in
    Washington County; and
  • Other funds were transferred out of habitat conservation funds without public notice.

In
addition, Meador struggled against official opposition to enforce
county ordinances that protected tortoises from being killed. In the
complaints, Meador calls for greater public oversight and transparency
in Washington County management of Red Cliffs. His charges have been
referred to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for investigation
and a financial audit.

Meador's disclosures come at a time when
federal spending in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve is slated to grow. In
2009 legislation, Congress created a National Conservation Area (NCA)
within the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. The law directs BLM to develop a
long-range management plan "to conserve, protect, and enhance ...the
ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical,
natural, educational, and scientific resources" of public lands within
the NCA.

"Conservation partnerships are an important tool but
they are not a license to steal," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff
Ruch. "As the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area comes into being,
it is important that BLM determine that taxpayer investments are used
for the intended purposes and not siphoned away for political payoffs."

 

Read a copy of Meador's charges

Look at plans for the Red Cliffs NCA

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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