August 10, 2008

Feds look for help to save desert tortoise

Marcel Honoré
The Desert Sun

Federal conservation officials hope to partner with regional land managers, off-roaders, environmentalists and scientists in their latest efforts to protect the Mojave population of the desert tortoise.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is developing the new strategy to bring multiple parties to the table in a new draft report released earlier this week. The draft revises the agency's 1994 recovery plan for the desert tortoise.

The Mojave tortoise is found in the Coachella Valley, as well as across California, Arizona, Nevada and southwestern Utah.

New roads, landfills, fires, military operations, trash-dumping and off-roading have all taken their total on the Mojave tortoise populations in recent years.

It was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990.

The new federal effort would compliment the local Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation plan, said Katie Barrows, environmental resources director for the Coachella Valley Association of Governments.

The $1.8 billion multi-species plan aims to protect 27 species, including the desert tortoise.

“We're fortunate because we have a lot of conservation areas,” Barrows said. The multi-species plan, which awaits federal permits, would link tortoise habitats north and south of Interstate 10 via under-passes and washes, Barrows said.

Fred Wiley, executive director of the Off-Road Business Association, said he was “encouraged” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's strategy to reach a consensus among various desert stakeholders.

“I have been working on these issues for many years with different federal agencies,” Wiley said.

“You don't have (consensus), there's always a way to obstruct the process.”