Federal agency decides to not list Sonoran desert tortoise as endangered

AZ-EV Arizona Game and Fish logo

The Arizona Game and Fish Department supports the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision not to list the Sonoran desert tortoise under the Endangered Species Act. The service announced its decision Oct. 6.

For more than 25 years, game and fish has dedicated considerable effort towards monitoring and researching Sonoran desert tortoise populations statewide. The extensive data collected over the years played a role in the service’s determination that the species does not warrant listing as endangered or threatened, according to a press release.

“The department fully supports and agrees with the federal decision not to list the Sonoran desert tortoise under the Endangered Species Act because our decades-long scientific studies show that the species is stable. We also have greater flexibility to conserve and manage a species that is not federally endangered,” Thomas R. Jones, acting nongame wildlife branch chief for the department, said in a press release.

In addition to the department’s tortoise research, a recently-developed conservation agreement between 17 federal and state partners that benefits the species statewide also helped the service reach a decision. The agreement, a Candidate Conservation Agreement, outlines effective conservation for the Sonoran desert tortoise and was submitted to the service for consideration during their listing evaluation.

CCA partners include the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, Department of Defense, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Arizona Department of Transportation and the department.

The agreement guides tortoise conservation actions across multiple agencies that have the potential to directly conserve the species in Arizona. It promotes a coordinated conservation approach statewide; integrated monitoring and research efforts; shared expertise; and supports ongoing conservation partnership formation.

Desert tortoises are native to the southwestern desert and can live up to 80 years. They grow to be about 15 pounds and hibernate in the winter months. Desert tortoises eat plant material, including grasses and wildflowers. It is illegal to remove desert tortoises from the wild.

Arizona is also home to the Mohave desert tortoise, which is an endangered species.

For more information on the Sonoran desert tortoise, visit the department’s website.

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