Lawsuit Initiated Over Government Failure to Stop Illegal Grazing on Desert Tortoise Habitat in Nevada

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Rob Mrowka, (702) 249-5821

Lawsuit Initiated Over Government Failure to Stop Illegal Grazing on Desert Tortoise Habitat in Nevada

LAS VEGAS - The Center for Biological Diversity today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Clark County, Nev., for not taking required steps to protect the desert tortoise, a threatened species, from grazing in southern Nevada. Specifically, the notice targets the agencies’ failure to carry out the mandatory terms and conditions of the Clark County Multiple Species Conservation Plan, Permit and Agreements. These plans, permits, and agreements have allowed the county and the cities to destroy up to 145,000 acres of desert tortoise habitat in exchange for promised conservation actions, mostly on federal public lands.

For years, the federal agencies and Clark County have allowed prolonged and extensive grazing by trespassing cattle in tortoise critical habitat in the Gold Butte area, south of Mesquite. The tortoise is protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act; grazing is a major threat to its survival.

“Enough is enough,” said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based Center ecologist. “As of December 2011, more than 80,600 acres of desert tortoise habitat have been destroyed in Clark County under the pretense that the agreed-on steps were being taken to help tortoises in protected areas. But since 1998, grazing that was supposed to be eliminated at Gold Butte has gone on, despite two federal courts saying it should stop.”

In 1994 the Fish and Wildlife Service identified areas critical to the long-term survival of the desert tortoise; one was Gold Butte. In 1998 the BLM released its current “resource management plan,” which clearly indicates that grazing allotments in tortoise critical habitat would be closed. Also in 1998 Clark County bought all valid existing grazing permits for Gold Butte, paying $375,000 to retire them for the benefit of the tortoise.

“While the federal agencies and county superficially attempted to meet the requirements, the reality is that because of their willful neglect, critical habitat has been steadily degraded by the trespass grazing,” said Mrowka. Recent surveys by the BLM have found 700 to 1,000 or more cattle in the Gold Butte area — an amount 10 times above what was legally permitted even before the tortoise’s protection. Grazing reduces vegetation the tortoises need to live and spreads noxious weeds by disturbing the soil with hooves and fur that carry invasive seed.
Last month, the local office of the Bureau of Land Management had planned a roundup of the trespass cattle, but the operation was canceled at the last minute by higher-ranking agency officials.

“We’ve tried to work with the BLM and county constructively to achieve a good resolution to this problem, but with the recent cancellation of a roundup of the trespass cattle, our only option for helping these tortoises is to take them to court,” said Mrowka.

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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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