Lawsuit Launched Over BLM’s Failure to Report Threats to Desert Tortoise, Other Imperiled Species in California Deserts

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FOR RELEASE: April 1, 2014
Media Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

SAN FRANCISCO— Environmental groups filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Bureau of Land Management today for failing for seven years to report impacts to the desert tortoise and similarly threatened and endangered species from off-road vehicles, cattle grazing and other activities in California’s deserts.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Desert Survivors recently learned that the BLM has failed to submit annual reports to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for years despite legal obligations to do so under the Endangered Species Act — a failure that puts imperiled species at risk.

“The Bureau of Land Management has shrugged off its duty to report impacts of grazing and off-road vehicle use on protected species on our public lands,” said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “BLM says it’s committed to conserving species and habitats in California deserts — yet it has failed to comply with even the most basic requirements for management of desert tortoises and other rare and vulnerable wildlife.”

The BLM is required to monitor impacts to threatened and endangered species and their habitats and report those impacts — such as the number of animals injured and killed — to the Fish and Wildlife Service annually. Its purview includes activities carried out under numerous plan amendments (the West Mojave Plan, Northern and Eastern Colorado Plan, Northern and Eastern Mojave Plan and Coachella Valley Plan, for instance). The Bureau was expressly required to develop new monitoring protocols, but has apparently failed to develop or implement monitoring plans that track effects of activities like off-road vehicle use and grazing on endangered and threatened species like the desert tortoise, Peninsular bighorn sheep and Lane Mountain milk vetch.

Without the required monitoring and reporting, neither agency can know how many threatened and endangered species are being harmed by various activities or what steps might be taken to reduce that harm. Without monitoring and reporting, vulnerable species could be pushed closer to extinction.

“Without accurate monitoring results and reporting, there is no way to evaluate the harm to endangered species that is occurring and therefore no way to modify activities to decrease harm,” said Karen Schambach of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

“Seven years of impacts, absent monitoring and changes in management, could doom critically endangered species,” said Terry Frewin of the Sierra Club. “The BLM’s abdication of legal requirements and Fish and Wildlife Service’s neglect of enforcement is setting up a crisis for these species already teetering on the brink of extinction.”

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