Tuesday, August 11, 2009

California Desert Tortoise: under the gun of the U.S. Army

The US military does not exactly have a sterling record when it comes to balancing the concerns of military training and wildlife conservation issues. The controversy over Navy sonar tests and the effects on ocean mammals is still ongoing. And we also have one brewing in California involving the endangered desert tortoise.

The Army wishes to expand its tank training operations in the Mojave desert outside of Ft. Irwin and this encroaches on the federally designated critical habitat for the desert tortoise, a reptile technically listed as threatened by the IUCN. In 2008, under the previous administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service granted permission to move 650 tortoises as part of a phase approach; the total number to be moved was to be 2000.

So far, the results have not been promising for the tortoise as many have died from predation by coyotes. Nature establishes habitat boundaries in several ways: sometimes through restricting vegetation/food sources, sometimes through geological limits - like temperature ranges, and sometimes through bio-dispersion based on predation. Move an animal out of its normal locale and anyone of these or other factors can have disastrous effects.

While the results of the first phase have not been all together successful, the Army is still pushing ahead with their plan. But they are meeting resistance from several conservation organizations, including the Center for Biological Diversity - that perennial environmental watchdog that seems unafraid to take government agencies to task in the courts.

One of the oldest residents in California is faced with what could be a fatal eviction for the sake of developing more deadly artillery. You can read more about this in the Los Angeles Times and at the Center for Biological Diversity, which is running both a public awareness campaign and a legal battle.

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