Save the tortoise!

Below is the text of a memo from Mike Spear, USFWS California/Nevada Operations Office and Al Wright, Acting State Director, BLM California. This was apparently the transmittal letter for the Fort Irwin Tortoise Panel Report and Haigh's analysis of the reports "reasonableness." It was date-stamped "Mar 17, 2000."

Spear/Wright Memo on Fort Irwin Tortoise Report and its Implications

Mar 17, 2000
•Tom Fry, Acting Director, Bureau of Land Management
•Jamie Rappaport Clark, Director, US Fish And Wildlife Service
•Mike Spear, Manager, California/Nevada Operations Office, FWS
•Al Wright, Acting State Director, California Bureau of Land Management

Subject: Fort Irwin Tortoise Report and its Implications

As you are aware, on December 9, 1999, representatives from Congress, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense, Army, met with to discuss the proposed expansion of Fort Irwin National training Center and its potential effects on the survival and recovery of the federally listed endangered desert tortoise. As a result of this meeting, a panel of recognized experts was established and asked to determine if the April, 1999 expansion proposal jeopardized the survival and recovery of the desert tortoise and if possible, to identify a set of conservation measures that would ensure the long-term survival and recovery of the desert tortoise while allowing the proposed Fort Irwin expansion to move forward.

The report is now complete and it is being transmitted to you. The members of the desert tortoise panel have endorsed the document to provide those concerned with their professional opinion on this issue. There is agreement among the panel members that the April, 1999 expansion proposal constitutes a jeopardy for the desert tortoise, however, nine panel members signed in concurrence with the teams proposed conservation measures that would ensure the long-term survival and recovery of the desert tortoise and three dissented, raising questions as to whether the proposed conservation measures would ensure the long-term survival and recovery and if the extensive conservation measures can be considered "reasonable and prudent."

The BLM West Mojave Plan team leader was also asked to assess the potential local impacts of implementing the panel's recommendations, in the event the two Departments decide to proceed with a Fort Irwin expansion proposal. Mr. William Haigh's assessment of the implications of the team's mitigation measures on the local constituents is attached.

Both the BLM and the FWS will be responsible for acting on the panel's recommendations. The Service will be responsible for determining if the panel's conservation measures are adequate to achieve the long-term survival and recovery for the desert tortoise in the West Mojave unit, and thereby constitute the basis for a reasonable and prudent alternative, as required under the ESA. The Bureau would be responsible for carrying out the mitigation measures determined necessary by FWS to bring the BLM Federal lands and activities impacted into full compliance with the Endangered Species Act. Each of us address those responsibilities below.

1. FWS: Biological Opinion - The Service is responsible for analyzing the proposed conservation measures and determining whether they constitute a reasonable and prudent alternative for a jeopardy determination as required under the ESA. Currently, there is dissension among panel members as to whether adequate conservation will be achieved under the panel's proposal. One-quarter of the panel's members do not feel that the recommendations in the report will ensure the long-term survival and recovery of the desert tortoise should the proposed Fort Irwin expansion be carried out, indicating no unified scientific position among panel members.

2. BLM: Implementation of Mitigation Measures - It is BLM's opinion that imposing the panel's recommended measures on the West Mojave would be an unachievable political and resource management risk. In essence, nearly all public uses in the region would be severely restricted as spelled out in Mr. Haigh's memorandum, with tremendous social, economic, and political implications that would be felt throughout the entire region. It is unlikely that the local participants in the West Mojave Plan would be willing to accept the strict levels of conservation and mitigation measures that are called for in the team's report to accommodate the Fort Irwin expansion. As a result, legislation establishing the conservation levels and measures is likely to be required in order to implement the panel's mitigation recommendations. The credibility that BLM has achieved to date for the West Mojave inter-agency cooperative effort could not be sustained with this new, extremely costly layer of constraints.

Therefore, we believe that absent a consensus in the biological team report on condition for recovery and considering the significant social, economic, and political dissension these proposals will present, the Department of the Interior faces a direct conflict with Department of the Defense over the Army's proposed expansion as presented in April 1999.

We will be available to assist you in any way possible and answer any questions relating to this effort.

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