No Federal Protection For The Sonoran Desert Tortoise

Environmentalists are disappointed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has refused to provide federal protection to the Sonoran Desert tortoise. The Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday that the tortoise was not at the risk of extinction, and it won’t be listed as a candidate for Endangered Species Act. The current scientific modeling demonstrates that there is no probability of extinction over the next decade, said the Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Jeff Humphrey.

Various agencies in Arizona pledge to protect the tortoise

It was the third time since the Sonoran Desert tortoise was refused federal protection by the agency despite environmental groups’ efforts. The Fish and Wildlife Service said its decision was partly based on commitments by various government agencies in Arizona to protect the tortoise. However, environmentalists complained that the decision was based on “theoretical” science instead of hard data.

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The Fish and Wildlife Service said it would continue to monitor the tortoises. There are between 470,000 and 970,000 adult tortoises in the U.S. and Mexico. The Sonoran Desert tortoise lives mostly in western, southern, and northwestern Arizona. A different species that lives in Nevada and California, Mojave Desert tortoise, has been under federal protection since 1990.

The agency changes its stance on the Sonoran Desert tortoise

Notably, the agency had said in 2010 that the Sonoran Desert tortoise’s situation warranted federal protection. The Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday that a thorough assessment and computer modeling suggested that conditions for the tortoise were not as grim as the agency thought in 2010. The Arizona Game and Fish Department lauded the decision, saying data it collected over 25 years helped reach the decision that listing wasn’t warranted.

The agency’s decision came as a relief for homebuilders and ranchers as the Endangered Species Act would have negatively affected development. Environmental groups such as WildEarth Guardians had listed livestock grazing and development among threats to the Sonoran Desert tortoise. Other threats to the species include fire, habitat fragmentation by infrastructure, and climate change. The agency said climate change can impact future tortoise populations, but the scope, severity, and timing of such an impact is unknown.