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Washington, DC – On the Mojave National Preserve, the National Park Service is running its largest grazing program in violation of an array of environmental laws, according to an employee-authored report released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In the report, entitled Tortoise on the Half-Shell, Park Service employees detail how legal protections for wildlife have been flaunted, critical scientific data ignored and grazing abuses in the Mojave’s arid landscapes are “unmonitored, unregulated and untouchable.”

Created in 1994, the Mojave National Preserve is a 1.5 million acre park in southeastern California. It contains one of the world’s most diverse desert ecosystems and is home to the desert tortoise, a creature classified as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.

The Mojave National Preserve now supports more commercial livestock grazing than any other unit of the National Park System. On October 31, 1999, grazing permits for more than 38,000 “animal unit months” (i.e., 30 days of forage for a cow and a calf) on 1.28 million acres in the Preserve are scheduled to lapse. According to the PEER report, these leases will be automatically renewed without environmental study, public notice or review.

With the creation of the Preserve, the Interior Department developed a Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan which designates more than half of the park as critical habitat for the species. Despite the Plan’s finding that cattle “affect desert tortoise and their habitats negatively” – by trampling turtles and their eggs, destroying streams and depleting needed food sources – and recommendation that domestic livestock grazing at the Mojave Preserve cease, the Preserve plans to renew leases without any restrictions.

“Managers of the Mojave are guilty of gross environmental malpractice, according to their own specialists,”commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Ironically, the Mojave’s actions coincide with the National Park Service Director’s announcement of a new ‘Action Plan for Preserving Natural Resources’ pledging better planning and monitoring of conditions affecting threatened and endangered species. The Park Service needs to practice what it preaches.”

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