For Immediate Release
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.
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.
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
- $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;
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.
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
"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."
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