For Immediate Release – December 1, 2022
Erik Molvar, Western Watersheds Project, (307) 399-7910
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Western Watersheds Project today took the first step in launching an Endangered Species Act lawsuit challenging government agency failures to protect the rare Mojave desert tortoise in southern Nevada by filing a Notice of Intent to sue several federal agencies. The challenge focuses on the Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (“Conservation Plan”), and Bureau of Land Management failures to protect key desert tortoise habitats from industrial solar energy projects and the impacts of Cliven Bundy’s cattle, which continue to trespass on federal grazing allotments closed to livestock to protect the desert tortoise.
“For almost thirty years, Cliven Bundy has grazed his cattle on public lands without a grazing permit and without paying rent,” said Erik Molvar, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “These cattle have disturbed the native desert ecosystems and promoted the expansion of flammable annual weed called red brome, resulting in major fires that burned more than 80,000 acres of desert tortoise habitat in 2005 alone. It’s time to evict the cattle.”
The Conservation Plan is legally binding under the Endangered Species Act, representing a carefully considered tradeoff that allows urban expansion into desert tortoise habitats around the Las Vegas metroplex, in exchange for commitments to close or retire federal grazing allotments to improve habitat conditions outside the urban area, with the intention of boosting desert tortoise populations. Desert tortoise populations, however, have continued to plummet and today the species is closer to extinction than when the Conservation Plan was adopted.
The Notice of Intent alleges violations of the terms and conditions of desert tortoise conservation in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Biological Opinion on the Conservation Plan, and calls for a fresh consultation between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and land managers, an end to solar development in desert tortoise critical habitats set aside from livestock grazing, and the removal of Cliven Bundy’s trespassing cattle from public lands closed to livestock to protect tortoise habitats.
“Clark County and Las Vegas metropolitan governments have kept their part of the bargain by organizing the funding of grazing lease buyouts in desert tortoise habitat across southern Nevada, but the Bureau of Land Management is undermining the Conservation plan by authorizing major solar developments that destroy tortoise habitat in these same areas, and by failing to evict Cliven Bundy’s illegally trespassing cattle inside Gold Butte National Monument,” Molvar added.
The NOI initiates a 60-day period during which violations of the letter and spirit of the Conservation Plan can be rectified, before the lawsuit would be filed with the courts.