Vandals destroy desert tortoise dens

  • Desert tortoise

    Drew Ross
 

As a vacation and retirement destination, southwestern Utah boasts a mild year-round climate and the world-famous Zion National Park.

It's also home to the most viable population of the Mojave desert tortoise, a creature threatened with extinction.

For years biologists and environmentalists have been studying ways to keep the prehistoric reptile from succumbing to new golf courses and housing developments.

In all their analyses, however, they didn't count on sabotage.

Last month, biologists discovered that four desert tortoise dens have been intentionally destroyed. Biologists on routine patrol discovered that someone used bowling-ball-sized rocks to block the entrances to at least three winter tortoise dens on a private housing project west of the town of Hurricane, Washington County. A tortoise den west of St. George was stomped in, causing certain death to any animals inside.

Dens hold from one to as many as 10 or 12 tortoises. Trapped inside the den, an animal can starve. If trapped outside during the winter, it could die of exposure.

"The configuration of their wintering den is not something you find everywhere," said Marilet Zablan, biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It's not always a given that there will be other dens within their home range. If there aren't suitable sites in that home range, they will not survive."

Protected under the Endangered Species Act, the tortoise is found on about 129,000 acres in Utah. Its threatened status has pitted developers and local politicians against biologists and environmentalists. Because of the tortoise, prime lands around St. George will not be open for real estate development. And in Hurricane, the animal may thwart or alter plans to develop an 18-hole golf course.

Officials do not know the motive behind the tortoise-den tampering, but the worst-case scenario is that it is in response to the controversy. Such a phenomenon is not new. People angry over the special protection given to the Florida scrub jay chopped down trees that the birds live in. And to protest the northern spotted owl debate in the Northwest, owls have been nailed to boards, Zablan says.

What's frustrating to Zablan is that the tampering came after Washington County officials submitted their latest "habitat conservation plan," which tries to reconcile the needs of development with the needs for the tortoises' survival. The plan allows some development on desert tortoise lands in exchange for special, perpetual protection on other lands.

Harming a threatened species is a federal offense punishable by up to a year in prison and a $200,000 fine. Anyone with information about the desert tortoise incidents is urged to call the poaching hotline, 800/662-3337.

The writer works for the Deseret News in Salt Lake City.

High Country News Classifieds
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE: NEAR CHRICAHUA NATIONAL PARK
    2 (20 acre sites): 110 miles from Tucson:AZ Native trees: Birder's heaven: dark skies: Creek: borders State lease & National forest: /13-16 inches of rain...
  • DIRECTOR - SONORAN DESERT INN & CONFERENCE CENTER
    The Sonoran Desert Inn & Conference Center is a non-profit lodging and event venue in Ajo, Arizona, located on the historic Curley School Campus. We...
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field Seminars for adults: cultural and natural history of the Colorado Plateau. With guest experts, local insights, small groups, and lodge or base camp formats....
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.