The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015 decided against protecting the Sonoran desert tortoise (Gopherus morafkai) under the Endangered Species Act
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015 decided against protecting the Sonoran desert tortoise (Gopherus morafkai) under the Endangered Species Act.
So 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.
Last week, the USFWS reached an agreement with WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project to reconsider its 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. A decision on the status of the species will be issued in 18 months.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service should be applauded for doing the right thing here,” Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center representing the groups said in a statement released by WildEarth Guardians. “The 2015 decision merely assumed tortoises were doing fine in the absence of any population data. This was not legally or biologically defensible.”
According to WildEarth Guardians, the Sonoran desert tortoise is threatened by invasive species, habitat fragmentation, housing developments, off-road vehicles, overgrazing, and cattle, which are known to trample and crush the tortoises in their burrows.
“Desert tortoise are known for moving slowly, but without full federal protections, they have been racing toward extinction,” said Cyndi Tuell, Arizona and New Mexico director with Western Watersheds Project. “The agency will now have to reconsider its decision based on the best scientific data available rather than caving to political pressure and economic interests in Arizona.”