CA: BLM orders
livestock off half a million desert acres
Sierra Times
Published 03. 13. 2002 at 10:17 PST

MOJAVE DESERT, CA -- The U.S. Bureau of Land Management took action March 1 to protect the desert tortoise from harmful livestock grazing by putting grazing restrictions back in effect for spring.

Last fall, 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 over 500,000 acres of fragile public lands habitat within the 11.5 million acres administered by BLM in the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA). Sweitzer, acting under rarely designated Secretarial level authority, agreed with arguments that livestock eat important tortoise food plants, leaving the reptiles with a "junk food" diet and therefore harming their recovery.

Since Sweitzer's fall ruling six of the seven Mojave public lands ranchers have worked out agreements with BLM to protect tortoises. The seventh, permittee Ron Kemper of San Bernardino, appealed the restrictions this winter and lost.

"Moving cattle to other parts of allotments in the spring so tortoises can eat is not too much to ask of ranchers who are grazing the public lands for private gain." said Daniel Patterson. "It is especially critical in this year's extreme drought. The scarce annual plants and wildflowers that pop up are critical nutrition for tortoises."

The spring tortoise protections arise from the carefully negotiated CDCA lawsuit settlement between BLM, The Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Sierra Club. This landmark agreement 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.

If permittees fail to comply by not moving cattle during the March 1 - June 15 tortoise protection period, they'll face trespass fines, extension of the grazing restrictions, herd size reductions, impoundment of cattle and possible loss of public lands grazing privileges.

Conservation groups and BLM are conducting separate on-the-ground compliance monitoring efforts.

Major problem areas where public lands ranching permittees have not complied are: the Ord Mountain allotment southeast of Barstow where Dave Fisher is the permittee, and Rattlesnake Canyon near Yucca Valley where Billy Mitchell is the permittee.



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