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Desert Tortoise
© Dan Fillipi

Desert Tortoise

What Defenders is Doing to Help

Defenders was influential in getting Agassiz’s desert tortoises listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1990, and in the 1994 designation of critical habitat.

Defenders has two full-time staff biologists dedicated to conservation of the natural biological communities in the Mojave Desert region and expertise in Agassiz’ desert tortoise ecology and their recovery needs. 

Protecting Tortoise Habitat

Defenders has challenged many federal, state and local government agency programs and that allow excessive human activity and development in Agassiz’s desert tortoise habitats, and rallied our supporters to do the same. We continue to oppose excessive and improper livestock grazing, unmanaged off-road vehicle use, military base expansion, renewable energy generation development, and electrical transmission installations. 

Defenders actively supports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in implementing the Revised Recovery Plan for the Mojave Population of the Desert Tortoise, issued in 2011. Defenders staff participates as a member of this recovery plan’s implementation team and regularly recommends science-based recovery actions to address the most serious threats facing Agassiz’s desert tortoise and its remaining habitat.  

Working for Smarter Solar Energy

Defenders supports “smart-from-the-start” renewable energy siting, which identifies high-value natural resource lands for avoidance and guides potential surface disturbance projects to low-value, low-conflict areas and degraded agricultural lands—aiming to avoid or minimize adverse effects to imperiled species such as Agassiz’s desert tortoise. 

Some of our most challenging work involves large-scale solar energy projects planned in remote desert landscapes that support higher numbers of Agassiz’s desert tortoises. We spend considerable time trying to convince solar energy companies to locate their projects on degraded lands with little or no long-term conservation value for desert tortoises. We also work closely with federal and state agencies to develop policy decisions on solar energy projects that will protect important desert tortoise populations, their habitats, and habitat linkages between populations. As a last resort, Defenders legally challenges agency decisions approving large-scale renewable energy projects that threaten Agassiz’s desert tortoises, their habitat and their future recovery.

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While the desert may look deserted to some, the land where these companies want to site their projects is often home to species such as the threatened desert tortoise that don’t have other places to go.
In the Magazine
Trying to keep wildlife safe in the midst of large-scale solar projects in the West.
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Where We Work
Our Southwest team works to protect rare and threatened species like Mexican wolves, jaguars and ocelots.