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Federal agencies partner to conserve Mojave desert tortoises

San Bernardino County, Calif. – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Army have consulted on a process for implementing effective ecosystem and conservation actions benefitting the federally threatened Mojave desert tortoise in the western Mojave Desert. 

The consultation, conducted under section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act, provides additional flexibility for military training within the Army’s National Training Center and Fort Irwin.

The Army will fund recovery actions for the desert tortoise within areas of critical environmental concern managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Additionally, the Service, Army, and Bureau will work with other partners, such as the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and local conservation groups that manage desert tortoise habitat, to implement specific recovery actions for the species. 

(Desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) commonly known as the Mojave desert tortoise. Photo by the Desert Tortoise Recovery Office, USFWS)

“We are excited to announce this initiative that balances military readiness and species recovery,” said Scott Sobiech, Carlsbad Fish and Wildlife Office Field Supervisor. “Fort Irwin has historically worked to protect sensitive species and their habitat, and we are grateful for their continued commitment to conservation.” 

“The U.S. Army and the Fish and Wildlife Service continue to collaborate via the Installation Commander ‘s Comprehensive Integrated Plan for the conservation and management of natural resources,” said David Davis, Fort Irwin Wildlife Biologist. “This plan focuses on ecosystem-based management that shows the interrelationships of individual components of natural resource management to mission requirements affecting Fort Irwin’s natural resources. Because wildlife do not read boundary signs it is vital that we develop working partnerships with the Service, BLM, and other Department of Defense installations.” 

Proposed recovery actions include improving desert tortoise populations through habitat restoration, improved management of threats within critical habitat, reduction of other mortality sources like roadkill, and strategic use of population augmentation.   

(A juvenile desert tortoise that was translocated from an expansion area at 29 Palms Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Spring of 2017.)

“The BLM is pleased to be actively involved in the Desert Tortoise Recovery Partnership to achieve targeted conservation goals,” said Field Manager Katrina Symons, Bureau of Land Management, Barstow Field Office. “This partnership will implement desert tortoise recovery actions, such as habitat restoration, at a larger scale than what any agency can do alone.” 

The desert tortoise lives in a variety of habitats from sandy flats to rocky foothills, including alluvial fans, washes and canyons. It was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1980 due to high rates of mortality, and fragmentation, degradation, and loss of its habitat.  

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