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For Immediate Release, August 25, 2011

Contact:  Ileene Anderson, (323) 654-5943,

New Recovery Plan Weakens Protections for Desert Tortoise

LOS ANGELES— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today released a revised “recovery” plan for the desert tortoise that weakens protections for this threatened species even though its populations have continued to crash. The plan was supposed to be an improvement on a recovery plan written nearly two decades ago. Instead, the new plan falls short of addressing some of the most potent threats facing imperiled tortoises, including livestock grazing, off-road vehicles, nonnative plants, global climate change and energy development.

“The desert tortoise badly needs a recovery plan that deals with the threats to its survival. This plan simply doesn’t cut it,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, which has been working for years to protect the tortoise.

The desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) has been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1990. A 1994 recovery plan — meant to function as a roadmap for restoring the species’ overall health — included several important specific recommendations, including cessation of livestock grazing in tortoise habitat.

The new plan allows for continued grazing in tortoise habitat and provides only vague recommendations for dealing with the host of other threats to the tortoise. The plan is silent on global climate change, a key force threatening the tortoise’s survival, and the development of renewable-energy sources in its habitat, something that the agency says it will address “soon.”

The new plan also releases the Fish and Wildlife Service from accountability for desert tortoise recovery because it relies on five “recovery implementation teams” of stakeholders, managers and scientists to plan and implement recovery actions. It also collapses the previous six recovery units into five, in direct conflict with the most recent genetics work and best available science.

“The new recovery plan only exacerbates the ongoing problem of desert tortoise recovery, which has been the failure to implement most of the science-based recommendations in the old plan,” said Anderson. “The desert tortoise is in trouble and deserves a plan that truly pushes it toward recovery and long-term survival.”

A copy of the new desert tortoise recovery plan can be found at


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