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Groups Warn CA Desert Tortoise On Path to Extinction

The desert tortoise is losing ground to off-road vehicles, development, disease, drought and animal grazing. (Kurt Moses/National Park Service)
The desert tortoise is losing ground to off-road vehicles, development, disease, drought and animal grazing. (Kurt Moses/National Park Service)
March 25, 2020

MOJAVE DESERT, Calif. -- The desert tortoise is dangerously close to extinction in California, according to a petition filed this week by conservation groups. Advocates are asking the California Fish and Game Commission to upgrade the species' status from threatened to endangered.

Pamela Flick, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife, said California's state reptile may move slowly but its decline in the wild has been a lot faster.

"Adult tortoise population numbers have dropped by over 50% in some recovery areas just since 2004," she said, "and by as much as 80% to 90% in some habitat since approximately 1980."

Research has shown the animals are falling victim to a variety of threats including uncontrolled off-road vehicle use, livestock grazing on wildlands, the spread of contagious disease, disruption from highway and utility projects, and extended droughts likely associated with climate change.

Flick said inadequate protective measures taken over the past few decades have failed.

"Despite 30 years of federal and state protections as a threatened species," she said, "the desert tortoise is closer to extinction than it was in 1990 when it was first listed."

Last year, the Trump administration moved to relax restrictions on off-road vehicles on federal land in the California desert, and has signaled plans to loosen them even further by amending the Obama-era Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. If the commission accepts the petition, it would trigger a 12-month review of the tortoise's threatened status.

More information is online at defenders.org.

Disclosure: Defenders of Wildlife contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA