Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 25, 2019


Patrick Donnelly, (702) 483-0449,

Groundswell of National Public Opinion Opposes Las Vegas Lands Bill

LAS VEGAS— More than 6,000 people from 47 states have sent letters urging the Clark County Commission and Nevada’s congressional delegation to oppose proposed county legislation that sidesteps bedrock environmental laws and endangers the iconic Mojave desert tortoise.

The commission has asked Nevada’s members of Congress to support a bill to dramatically expand Las Vegas, allowing the city to sprawl into the open desert outside the Las Vegas Valley. The measure would earmark more than 120,000 acres of public land for residential sprawl and industrial development. It would also pave the way for up to 300,000 acres of desert tortoise habitat to be destroyed by dodging laws like the Endangered Species Act.

“Clark County wants to push the desert tortoise toward extinction and blow a hole in the Endangered Species Act to allow more sprawl,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “People across the country are outraged by this land grab, because it would set a dangerous precedent. It’ll put imperiled wildlife nationwide in the crosshairs when we’re already in an extinction crisis.”

The desert tortoise is an icon of the Mojave Desert and Nevada’s state reptile. Threatened with extinction by precisely the kind of sprawl development now being planned by Clark County, it is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The county needs a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop in the tortoise’s habitat, which would require environmental analysis and public review. The county wants to do an end run around the law and get Congress to approve the permit.

“This bill would open a Pandora’s box where any local government that didn’t feel like complying with the Endangered Species Act could just run to Congress to get its permits,” said Donnelly. “That would cause chaos. It would threaten beloved species nationwide, from pygmy owls to Florida panthers.”

The decline of the desert tortoise and other endangered species are part of a global extinction crisis. A recent United Nations report found that almost 1 million species are at dire risk of extinction, threatening to destabilize the biodiversity that sustains life on Earth.

“The county needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with a smart growth plan that respects bedrock environmental laws and promotes climate adaptation and resiliency, not sprawl and extinction,” said Donnelly.

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 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

center locations