Tortoise protection efforts effects unclear -- GAO

Discussion in 'Land Use' started by Bubba Ray Boudreaux, Jan 2, 2003.

  1. Bubba Ray Boudreaux

    Bubba Ray Boudreaux 1 ton status

    Jan 21, 2001
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    Undisclosed Location
    Despite numerous land controls and at least $100
    million in government funds, it is unclear if efforts
    to save the threatened Mojave desert tortoise are
    working, the General Accounting Office reported late
    last month. The office recommended a research plan to
    link land management decisions and recovery plans
    together, among other items.

    GAO, in consultation with experts at the National
    Academy of Sciences, agreed the 1990 Endangered
    Species Act listing of the entire Mojave desert
    tortoise population, the subsequent critical habitat
    designation and recovery plan were reasonable, given
    the scientific data FWS had at the time. The
    scientists said increases in diseases and habitat
    loss, among other threats, were important factors
    making the listing necessary.

    However, the GAO report found that land managers and
    FWS do not have the management tools they need to
    measure the species' current status and evaluate the
    effectiveness of protections and restrictions in

    "The effectiveness of these actions is unknown because
    the necessary analyses have not been done," GAO found.
    "Data are not available to demonstrate population
    trends so despite actions taken to benefit tortoises,
    the status of desert tortoise populations is unclear."

    Specifically, GAO said a lack of strategy for
    integrating research with management decisions
    prohibits FWS and land managers from conducting
    research needed to evaluate the effectiveness of the
    protective actions or identify additional actions that
    could help recovery efforts.

    "Without knowing how effective the protective actions
    are, the Service and land managers cannot ensure that
    their limited resources are focused on the most
    effective actions," GAO said.

    Desert tortoise habitat extends across millions of
    acres in Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah. FWS
    listed the population as threatened in 1990 and by
    1994, designated 6.4 million acres of critical

    The recovery plan included restrictions -- some
    controversial -- on off-road vehicle use, military
    actions, livestock grazing and land clearing for
    development along with a monitoring plan to determine
    when the species reached a stable level.

    The report said recovery efforts have exceeded $100
    million since the species' first listing in 1990, and
    the overall economic impact on landowners, states,
    developers and other affected parties is unknown.

    GAO also pointed to a lack of reassessment of the
    recovery plan, which is supposed to occur every three
    to five years, but has not been completed since 1994.

    "Given the controversy surrounding some of the
    recommended restrictions and the large number of acres
    and land users affected, we believe that it is
    important to ensure that management decisions are
    supported by research," GAO said.

    In addition, GAO also suggested FWS work with other
    organizations to monitor tortoise populations and
    complete required expenditure reports on time.

    FWS indicated in the report that it agreed with the
    findings and aims to work on implementing the
    recommendations. Bob Williams, field supervisor for
    FWS's Nevada office said a Jan. 13 meeting is planned
    between regional managers from FWS, the Bureau of Land
    Management, National Park Service and other officials
    to discuss the report and how to move forward on
    relevant action items.

    Meanwhile, Daniel Patterson, desert ecologist at the
    Center for Biological Diversity, noted that while he
    supports the GAO recommendations, he does not want FWS
    to neglect implementing other parts of the plan.

    "We need action now," he said. "We are certainly not
    going to support additional delay in exchange for
    on-the-ground action."

    Patterson said he was pleased the report confirmed
    that the tortoise needs to be listed and the recovery
    plan was based on sound science. His interpretation of
    the report also found that FWS needs to implement key
    parts of the recovery plan not currently in place. For
    example, livestock grazing that was supposed to stop
    is still going on and some off-road vehicle use still
    occurs, he said.

    Patterson emphasized that the report does not say the
    current restrictions or other forms of protection do
    not work, but that there is no way to tell if they

    "Simply because land managers may have not done
    adequate reporting on plans they have doesn't mean it
    doesn't work," Patterson said.

    Michael Conner, executive director of the Desert
    Tortoise Preservation Committee said he was
    disappointed that GAO made no attempt to evaluate
    scientific literature that evaluates the current
    trends in tortoise population. He said numerous
    studies have shown there is a decreasing trend of
    about 10 percent a year of the animal's population.
    GAO also did not consider the amount of time involved
    in measuring the tortoise population since tortoises
    do not reproduce often and it takes a long time for
    desert habitat to recover, Connor said.

    "If you do something beneficial in an area, you're not
    going to see results next year, but in two decades,"
    Conner said. "It's a failure to appreciate the
    timeline involved."

    Conner pointed out that some restrictions now in place
    resulted from lawsuits brought by conservation groups,
    not direct action by FWS or other federal agencies. He
    added that instead of looking just at animal numbers,
    agencies need to look at habitat quality improvements
    and other related items.

    GAO included the Committee's work in a list of actions
    taken to protect the tortoise in the report.

    Clark Collins, executive director of the BlueRibbon
    Coalition, a mechanized vehicle-user group, said the
    report's results show why the group is concerned about
    restrictions that come from the Endangered Species
    Act. He said without determining that "our type of
    recreation" is a problem for animals or plants in
    restricted areas, there is little proof the
    restriction is necessary.

    "We believe that the land management agencies need to
    wait to order recreation restrictions until they have
    some basis for them, not just because endangered
    species may be in the area and recreation use may have
    a negative impact," Collins said. "Baseline research,
    with the recreation uses still in place, should be
    conducted, to determine impacts if any, before
    assuming that recreation needs to be restricted.
    Recreationists shouldn't be considered guilty until
    proven innocent, as is too often the case."
  2. ZonkRat

    ZonkRat 1/2 ton status

    Jan 16, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Lawrence County Tennessee
    If you use Gov Mentality of closing area to motor veh. Because they run over animals it would close a lot of highways and interstates.I've seen a lot more animals killed on them than on back and off roads. /forums/images/graemlins/thumb.gif

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