SAN JOSE, California – Defenders of Wildlife, the Desert Tortoise Council and the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee applaud the California Fish and Game Commission’s unanimous 4-0 decision today to list the Mojave desert tortoise as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). 

“The Commission’s decision that uplisting is warranted accurately reflects the dire status of our state reptile and its urgent need for additional protections,” said Jeff Aardahl, senior California representative for Defenders of Wildlife and co-author of the uplisting petition. “The Mojave desert tortoise serves as an indicator of the health of our desert ecosystem, and both the species and its habitats are facing a myriad of serious threats.” 

The three conservation organizations first petitioned the Commission to uplist the Mojave desert tortoise in March 2020. Later that year, the Commission found that consideration of uplisting was warranted and tasked the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to prepare a status review of the species within 12 months, along with a recommendation on listing status.

“We have to recognize that desert tortoises are not an annual species that can rapidly recover from population declines,” said Michael Tuma, PhD, Desert Tortoise Council board member. “With their long generation times, slow growth and low reproductive rates, tortoise populations will need decades to recover from population declines, and that’s only if we can provide an environment with sustained relief from threats. Listing the species as endangered under CESA will give them the best chance at successful recovery.”

In 1984, Defenders of Wildlife and other groups petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the desert tortoise under the Endangered Species Act. In 1989, the species was listed as threatened by the California Fish and Game Commission, and in 1990, it was listed as threatened under the federal ESA. 

“Our fifty years of experience at the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area in the western Mojave desert showcases the effectiveness of protecting large tracts of contiguous land free of key threats such as off-highway vehicle use and livestock grazing,” said Roger Dale, president of the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee. “We are hopeful that the uplisting will attract additional resources for proven conservation measures such as land acquisition, fencing, habitat restoration and permanent stewardship of preserve areas.” 

Despite its protections at the state and federal level, the desert tortoise is closer to extinction than ever before. The change in listing is necessary as it reflects the direness of the desert tortoise’s decline and may generate more awareness and protection for the species. 

The threats facing the Mojave desert tortoise include habitat loss from development, military base expansion and training, off-highway vehicle use and livestock grazing. Other risks to its survival include disease, utility maintenance projects, invasive species, and extended droughts associated with climate change. 




Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 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.

The Desert Tortoise Council is a non-profit organization comprised of hundreds of professionals and laypersons who share a common concern for wild desert tortoises and a commitment to advancing the public’s understanding of desert tortoise species. The mission of the Desert Tortoise Council, which was established in 1975 to promote conservation of tortoises in the deserts of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, is to assure the perpetual survival of viable populations of desert tortoises throughout their historical ranges. For more information, visit

The Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee, Inc. (DTPC), founded in 1974, is dedicated to the recovery and conservation of the desert tortoise and other protected species inhabiting the Mojave and western Sonoran deserts. In close collaboration with State and federal agencies, the DTPC accomplishes its mission through land acquisition and stewardship, environmental education and outreach, and support of scientific research. For more information, visit

For over 75 years, Defenders of Wildlife has remained dedicated to protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife for generations to come. To learn more, please visit or follow us on X @Defenders.


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