The California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously (4-0) today to move forward with strengthening protections for the Agassiz’s desert tortoise under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). The Commission agreed to advance a petition filed in March by Defenders of Wildlife, the Desert Tortoise Council, and the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee recommending the upgrade in  protections from threatened to endangered. 

In accepting the petition and finding that listing as endangered may be warranted, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will now conduct a 12-month evaluation to determine if an upgraded listing will be confirmed.  

During its May meeting, the Commission voted unanimously to accept a report from CDFW that found that the uplisting may be warranted and recommended that the Commission accept the petition for further consideration.

Pamela Flick, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:

“The Fish and Game Commission made the right decision today to move forward with the uplisting process for the Agassiz’s desert tortoise. Our state reptile desperately needs strengthened protections if it is to survive the barrage of threats the species faces including climate change, habitat loss and increased off-road vehicle use.”

Data Visualization: Defenders of Wildlife’s Center for Conservation Innovation created an interactive story map where users can explore a visual guide to threats facing the desert tortoise as well as conservation measures designed to help recover the species throughout its range.


  • The desert tortoise was first listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act in 1989 and under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1990.
  • A recovery plan prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for this federally listed species was adopted in 1994, with Critical Habitat concurrently designated. A revised recovery plan was adopted in 2011, noting distinct problems in responsible agencies implementing previous recovery plan actions.
  • According to a 2018 study, adult tortoise population numbers have dropped by over 50% in some recovery areas since 2004, and by as much as 80-90% in some designated critical habitat units since approximately 1980.
  • Tortoise population declines in the western Mojave Desert have been especially severe, due primarily to unmanaged off-highway vehicle use, grazing of wildlands by domestic livestock, contagious disease spread, expansion and upgrading of highways, and utility maintenance projects, as well as extended droughts associated with climate change.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With over 1.8 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

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Rebecca Bullis
Rebecca Bullis
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