Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 15, 2021


Laura Cunningham, Western Watersheds Project, (775) 513-1280,
Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 490-0223,

BLM Withdraws Decision Allowing Grazing in California Area Protected for Desert Tortoises

SAN FRANCISCO— An appeal by environmental groups forced the U.S. Bureau of Land Management late Tuesday to withdraw its decision allowing cattle grazing on public lands near California’s Mojave Desert. The area had been deemed permanently off limits to grazing under an earlier agreement to protect the federally threatened desert tortoise and other sensitive plants and animals.

“It’s shocking that we were forced to file an appeal to enforce a permanent retirement of grazing privileges,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The BLM was right to withdraw this unlawful decision. The plants and animals that depend on the fragile Mojave Desert for their survival need protection now more than ever.”

The appeal, filed in late August by the Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity and Wilderness Watch, challenged the decision to allow cattle to cross a public lands grazing allotment on the Mojave Desert side of the southern Sierra Nevada mountains — a biodiverse area where the arid desert meets the rugged Sierras. An industrial-scale solar developer had purchased and retired the grazing privileges to mitigate potential harm to sensitive species, including federally protected Mojave desert tortoises, from solar developments elsewhere in the desert.

“This grazing-trailing permit threw into question the durability of conservation agreements on public lands,” said Laura Cunningham, California director at Western Watersheds Project. “The imperiled desert tortoise needs all the help it can get as the species continues its decline. Closing grazing allotments for conservation purposes is one good way to improve habitat for this keystone species of the California desert.”

Tuesday’s BLM action prevents any cattle grazing or trailing on the permanently retired allotment and protects these sensitive lands, including BLM-designated areas of critical environmental concern and California Desert national conservation lands.

The Kawaiisu Tribe identified several traditional resource-gathering sites, ceremonial locations and religious places within the area. The West Mojave endemic plant Kelso Creek monkeyflower (Erythranthe shevockii) has nearly its entire range within the area of critical environmental concern. Herds of cattle, and associated new water troughs on existing roads, would harm the Bright Star Wilderness Area on the arid lower slopes of the southern Sierra Nevada mountains.

Mojave desert tortoise
Mojave desert tortoise. Photo credit, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation group with over 12,000 followers, with field offices across the western U.S. We work to influence and improve public lands management throughout the West with a primary focus on the negative impacts of livestock grazing on 250 million acres of western public lands, including harm to ecological, biological, cultural, historic, archeological, scenic resources, wilderness values, roadless areas, Wilderness Study Areas and designated Wilderness.

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