ESA Protections For Sonoran Desert Tortoise Not Needed, USFWS Says

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ESA Protections For Sonoran Desert Tortoise Not Needed, USFWS Says

Desert tortoises range from the Mojave and Sonoran deserts in Southern California and can also be found in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico

The service says that the reptile still occupies most of its historical range with adult population estimates in the hundreds of thousands.

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The Sonoran desert tortoise (Gopherus morafkai) is not in need of protections under the Endangered Species Act and is not at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement on the USFWS website.

The service says that the reptile still occupies most of its historical range with adult population estimates in the hundreds of thousands.


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“The primary threats to the Sonoran desert tortoise include: invasive nonnative vegetation and altered wildfire regimes, human development, human harassment and drought. Alone or in combination, these stressors remove or degrade habitat suitability over time and/or reduce Sonoran desert tortoise survivorship,” the service wrote in its statement. “While several of these threats, mainly development and drought, may increase in scope or severity over time, the species and its associated habitat are projected to remain at levels that do not threaten the survival of the Sonoran desert tortoise  in the foreseeable future.”

The USFWS has flip flopped over the years on putting the tortoise on the Endangered Species List. The service in 2015 decided against protecting the reptile. In September 2019, WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to take into consideration the effects of climate change and livestock grazing, among others, when it decided not to afford the Sonoran desert tortoise protections under the Endangered Species Act.

In August 2020, the service reached an agreement to reconsider the 2015 decision not to list the reptile under the ESA. This agreement was approved by a federal court in Tucson, AZ. The USFWS will take a new look at the status of this reptile in Arizona, and is currently requesting information from biologists and the public as part of its evaluation. The decision not to list the reptile is the result of that agreement and evaluation.


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Desert Tortoise Information

Desert tortoises range from the Mojave and Sonoran deserts in Southern California and can also be found in Arizona, Nevada, as well as in areas in Mexico. They grow to about 8 to 10 lbs. and eat mostly weeds and leafy weeds in the wild. It is speculated that more desert tortoises can be found in captivity than in the wild. The state of Arizona each year offers an adoption program for the Arizona desert tortoise to qualified residents of the state.