September 6, 2013

Desert tortoises should run from government

Sherman Frederick

Apparently, desert tortoises don’t read the newspapers. They are in trouble. They receive federal protection.

Here’s my advice to desert tortoises in Nevada: Run for your lives! You don’t need protection by the federal government. You need protection from the federal government.

Ask wild horses how federal protection is working out for them. Can you spell “dog food”?

Let me tell you a story. It’s one I share with many Nevada families.

My family once lived at The Lakes in Las Vegas. In the 1980s, it was a spot-zoned community in the middle of nowhere. No other development in any direction. Summerlin was a pipe dream. Civilization ended at Rainbow Boulevard. In some places, you could even see wagon ruts.

From our house to the mountains was pure desert, filled with jackrabbits, lizards of all kinds, coyotes, a few kit foxes and, of course, desert tortoises.

Most days after school, the kids in the neighborhood, accompanied by our yellow lab, Chief, set out on excursions from which they’d bring back all kinds of creatures. We’d have to stand our sons at attention on the front porch and search their backpacks, along with every pocket in their jeans, to separate them from their prized chuckwalla or whiptail or whatever turned out to be the catch the day.

We missed a few. Nothing like sitting down to dinner and watching a desert creature scurry across the floor.

This band of suburban children group-hunting with a yellow lab produced desert tortoises almost weekly. When the smiling kids would bring the tortoises home, I’d try to tell them the reptiles were a protected species, and that the creatures needed to be returned to the desert before the FBI found out.

They’d cock a puzzled glance like only kids can, and say: “But dad, they are everywhere.”

“Obviously.” I’d say, “But they are still protected. Take them back.”

The irony could not be missed. The federal government may not be able to find enough desert tortoises, but our neighborhood kids sure could.

Anyway, after some 20 years of central government “management” of the desert tortoise in Nevada (and not to mention extra, unnecessary expense incurred by the homebuilding industry), we’re starting to get the picture that it’s all been a weirdly dumb exercise. My kids and the yellow lab could have testified to that.

The federal government is now planning to close the Las Vegas Valley’s desert tortoise refugee camp and release hundreds of them into the wild. I am not making this up.

I hope there’s enough room for them out there.