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Groups Plan To Sue Over Agency Negligence On Desert Tortoise, Other Wildlife

the Threatened desert tortoise | Photo: Justin Ennis/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Charging that the Bureau of Land Management has failed to fulfill its legal obligations to monitor and report on threats to the desert tortoise and other imperiled species in the California desert, a consortium of environmental groups says it plans to sue the agency for its inaction.

The plaintiffs charge that BLM has failed to track the effects of a wide range of human activities in the California desert on the tortoise, as well as on other Endangered and Threatened desert animal and plant species. For seven years, say the plaintiffs, BLM has neglected to monitor the wildlife impacts of activities from mining and grazing to off-road vehicle use on desert public lands -- a violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The BLM has also failed to file legally mandated annual reports on those species with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As a result, say the groups, the federal government lacks basic information about the status of those protected species, putting the species involved at risk.

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"Seven years of impacts, absent monitoring and changes in management, could doom critically endangered species," said Terry Frewin of the Sierra Club, one of the groups planning to sue. "The BLM's abdication of legal requirements and Fish and Wildlife Service's neglect of enforcement is setting up a crisis for these species already teetering on the brink of extinction."

Groups planning to join the Sierra Club in suing the BLM are the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and Desert Survivors.

In addition to the desert tortoise, species that have suffered inadequate monitoring and reporting by BLM include the peninsular bighorn sheep and the Lane Mountain milkvetch.

Annual reporting on the status of listed species, as well as on the effects of potentially destructive activity such as grazing and off-roading, is intended to provide a reality check for federal agencies charged with making sure those species aren't unduly harmed by human activity. Without that monitoring, land managers are essentially flying in the dark when it comes to predicting future impacts to the species in question.

"The Bureau of Land Management has shrugged off its duty to report impacts of grazing and off-road vehicle use on protected species on our public lands," said CBD attorney Lisa Belenky. "BLM says it's committed to conserving species and habitats in California deserts -- yet it has failed to comply with even the most basic requirements for management of desert tortoises and other rare and vulnerable wildlife."

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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