Tortoise treatise, critiqued

 

Emily Green's Aug. 5 article "Mojave Squeeze," states that, in 2008, "California's habitat conservation plans (were) superseded by a new 'Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan.' " In fact, the DRECP has not superseded anything; a draft environmental impact statement has yet to be released.

Ms. Green failed to note that the final biological opinion for the Army's expansion of Fort Irwin addressed the loss of approximately 23,000 acres of critical habitat, and did not mention that Congress authorized $75 million for the Army to mitigate the impacts of expansion.

With regard to translocation, Green quotes Dr. Kristin Berry's summary of the fates of translocated tortoises: 84 of 158 died. However, soon after the Army translocated the tortoises, the desert was enveloped in a drought. Researchers determined that the mortality rate among the translocated desert tortoises was not statistically different than that of resident animals and of control animals.

Additional work on desert tortoises in the translocation area showed that researchers could not detect any statistically significant differences in stress hormones or reproduction among translocated, resident, and control animals. Finally,  Green should have noted that mortality rates of all three classes of desert tortoises had dropped to approximately 1 percent within a few years of the translocation.

I am the author of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's biological opinions for the expansion of Fort Irwin. These opinions are mine, not those of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Raymond Bransfield
Ventura, California

Emily Green responds

Mr. Bransfield is correct: The Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan is now more than a year overdue (and the BLM's solar environmental impact statement is also ongoing). Nonetheless, state and federal emphasis on renewable energy, beginning in 2008, has resulted in rapid solar and wind development in tortoise habitat covered by habitat conservation plans.

Owing to space, the article did not address in detail the long negotiations over Fort Irwin, including the changing footprint of the expansion into critical habitat, or the $75 million for land purchases. However, there is no evidence that this mitigation abetted tortoise recovery.

Dr. Berry was among many researchers to remark that it is impossible to accurately assess natural death rates of resident tortoises from drought after impacting them by releasing dozens of other tortoises. Death rates and causes can only be established once Fish and Wildlife publishes population studies of resident wild tortoise numbers in the Mojave, which remain unfinished 24 years after the tortoise was first listed.

The 2012 study on the stress hormone corticosterone could be interpreted as indicating that stress is not a factor in translocation, but the authors acknowledge that hormone levels may not be not reliable indicators of translocation stress. The propensity of translocated animals to wander and succumb to predation, vehicles and starvation has been well documented. No mortality data were offered for the translocated animals in the hormone studies.

Fish and Wildlife has relied on short-term studies (less than five years) to argue for translocation while never publishing mortality data for its longest and largest experiment, covering 15 years of moving more than 9,000 tortoises to the Large Scale Translocation Site near Jean, Nev.

High Country News Classifieds
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • ARIZONA PROGRAM MANAGER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks an Arizona Program Manager. The Arizona Program Manager works...
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!