Latest Solution to Cutting Budget Deficit: Killing Desert Tortoises

Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Desert tortoise at Desert Tortoise Consevation Center (photo: Isaac Brekken, AP)

The desert tortoise has survived the American Southwest for 200 million years. But many of them will soon meet their end because of budget cuts.


In Southern Nevada, about 1,400 of the reptiles reside at the 222-acre Desert Tortoise Conservation Center. The center, though, is running out of federal funding, and biologists at the refuge plan to set free half of the tortoises—the healthy ones—once the operation closes down.


The other half not healthy enough to survive in the wild will be euthanized, despite the fact that the animal has been on the endangered species list since 1990.


“It’s the lesser of two evils, but it’s still evil,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service desert tortoise recovery coordinator Roy Averill-Murray told the Associated Press.


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has funded the center using fees collected from developers whose housing projects disturbed tortoise habitat on public land. But once the housing boom went bust last decade, the fees dried up, leaving the center with less a third of its $1 million annual budget.


“With the money going down and more and more tortoises coming in, it never would have added up,” BLM spokeswoman Hillerie Patton told the AP.


There were once millions of desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert, but their numbers have been reduced by 90% in the last 30 years.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Desert Tortoise Faces Threat from its own Refuge (by Hannah Dreier, Associated Press)

Desert Tortoise Conservation Center


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