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
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.