June 4, 2014

Delist desert tortoise


Being a desert tortoise truther these days can’t be an easy job.

For more than two decades, the shelled reptile, designated a threatened species, has received federal protection. The problem: desert tortoises are about as threatened as pigeons. Maybe even less so, a point further established by the Review-Journal’s Henry Brean in a report that announced an expansion of the Las Vegas-based Tortoise Group’s adoption program to Reno, Sparks, Carson City and Gardnerville.

Yes, there are so many desert tortoises that they need to be shipped out of the desert.

The tortoise truthers say that, while the number of pet tortoises has exploded, tortoises in the wild still need that protection. But any attempt to distinguish between wild desert tortoises and those on golf courses, in backyards or kept as pets is so politically expedient as to be nauseating. The fact is desert tortoises are everywhere — and pretty soon, with this new program, some won’t even be in the desert!

For years, as Mr. Brean reported, the U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service used to take in pets and strays at its Desert Tortoise Conservation Center on the valley’s southwestern edge. Officials put a stop to that in early 2013 because the flood of tortoises — as many as 1,000 a year — threatened to overwhelm the facility’s budget and damage its research mission: saving the wild population. Indeed, the center is expected to close by year’s end, it’s funding eliminated. And good riddance. The center’s mission was a solution in search of a problem.

In fact, over the years, government intervention on behalf of our fine shelled friends has done far more harm than good. The best example: In 2008, about 770 tortoises from Fort Irwin were released into the wild of the California desert —and 90 percent of them were quickly devoured by predators.

If desert tortoises can — and are allowed to — live in a garage in Sparks when it’s 10 degrees outside, then there is no need for government protection. It’s time to delist this animal and open up more land to productive use. The desert tortoise is not in any way a threatened species. That’s the truth.