MOJAVE DESERT, CA -- The U.S. Bureau of Land Management took decisive action this afternoon to protect the desert tortoise from harmful livestock grazing by putting grazing restriction decisions in to immediate full force and effect. Conservation groups applaud the decision.
On August 24, U.S. Interior Dept. Judge Harvey C. Sweitzer upheld BLM's science-based arguments for endangered species protection and recovery, by seasonally limiting damaging livestock grazing on nearly 500,000 acres of fragile public lands habitat within the 11.5 million acres administered by BLM in the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA). He also issued a very limited remand to BLM and required the agency to hold further consultations with the livestock industry over the tortoise conservation measures. On the advice of their attorney, Karen Budd-Falen, the eight affected ranchers failed to show up for BLM grazing cooperation and consultation sessions in Barstow yesterday and today - even though many live close by and were directly informed about these important meetings over a week in advance.
"Today, we salute California BLM for finally enacting long overdue livestock grazing changes to benefit the desert tortoise and critical habitat," said Daniel Patterson, the Center's Desert Ecologist. "Moving cattle to other parts of allotments in the fall and spring so tortoises can eat is not too much to ask of ranchers who are grazing the public lands for private gain." He adds, "BLM has tried and tried again, but since last December, the livestock industry has been avoiding communication and cooperation with BLM on these needed conservation changes. The fact that the ranchers failed to show-up for further talks highlights that they have never been open to reasonable discussions on how to help the threatened desert tortoise."
"The BLM could've decided there should be no more desert grazing, but they've only decided to pull cattle off tortoise habitat during the few months when the tortoises need food." said Elden Hughes, longtime desert protection champion with the Sierra Club. "That's a reasonable middle-ground." He adds, "The tortoise is on the edge of extinction. Proper grazing regulations are a victory, but the tortoise will need many victories to recover."
"We commend BLM for meeting the decision deadline and not rewarding, by further delays, the ranchers' stubborn refusal to discuss the grazing plans." said Karen Schambach, California Coordinator for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
The carefully negotiated CDCA grazing settlement helps BLM partially implement the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's 1994 Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan recommendations for livestock reduction and removal from critical habitat. It is scientifically shown that livestock mow down spring annual plants essential to tortoise health and reproduction. The hoofed livestock also trample burrows, killing tortoises inside or wrecking their homes. The CDCA settlement was negotiated to aid desert tortoise recovery by preventing grazing on 285,381 acres of critical and 213,281 acres of essential tortoise habitat during the biologically critical spring and fall seasons. The agency further agreed to prohibit grazing year-round on an additional 11,079 acres of active allotments.
"BLM has finally admitted, through today's actions to protect the tortoise, that the grazing settlement agreement they agreed to, including the implementation schedule set by the Secretary of Interior, is reasonable and fair." said Jay Tutchton, Earthjustice attorney representing the Center, PEER and Sierra Club.
If the livestock industry fails to comply by not moving their cattle during the Sept. 7-Nov. 7 tortoise protection period, they'll face trespass fines, extension of the grazing restrictions, impoundment of cattle and possible loss of public lands grazing privileges.
Conservation groups and BLM plan separate on-the-ground compliance monitoring efforts starting as soon as this weekend.
The Center for Biological Diversity protects endangered species and wild places of western North America and the Pacific through science, policy, education, citizen activism and environmental law. Offices: Tucson and Phoenix, Arizona; San Diego, Idyllwild and Berkeley, California; Silver City, New Mexico; and Shaw Island, Washington.