Today, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to accept a report from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) that recommends strengthening protections for the Agassiz’s desert tortoise from threatened to endangered. The CDFW’s evaluation report comes in response to a petition filed in March by Defenders of Wildlife, the Desert Tortoise Council and the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee to
increase tortoise protections under the California Endangered Species Act, highlighting the dire condition of this critically imperiled reptile.
Today’s acceptance of CDFW’s evaluation report will be followed by a final Commission vote at its October 2020 meeting to decide whether or not to upgrade protections for the species.
Pamela Flick, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife, issued this statement:
“We are pleased that the Fish and Game Commission voted today to move forward with the process to strengthen protections for the Agassiz’s desert tortoise. Our critically endangered state reptile is facing numerous threats, from increased off-road vehicle use to climate change, disease to widespread habitat loss. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that without increased protections, this species will be driven to extinction.”
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 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 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.