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Tortoises Suffer While BLM Allows Trespass Cattle to Eat for Free in Nevada Desert


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By: Center for Biological Diversity

LAS VEGAS, March 25, 2014 — Despite repeated U.S. District Court of Nevada rulings that the federal Bureau of Land Management has the right and duty to remove cattle trespassing in southeastern Nevada's Gold Butte area to protect desert tortoises and other imperiled species, cattle are once again grazing in the area this spring, according to BLM surveys.

The Gold Butte area south of Mesquite is officially designated as critical habitat for the tortoise – an area essential for its long term survival. But the BLM continues to allow grazing by trespass cattle.

"This situation is simply outrageous", said Rob Mrowka, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "It's high time for the BLM to do its job and give the tortoises and the Gold Butte area the protection they need and are legally entitled to. As the tortoises emerge from their winter sleep, they are finding their much needed food consumed by cattle."

Beginning in 1993, the BLM has been in a dispute with grazer Cliven Bundy over his cattle grazing in the Bunkerville Allotment of the Gold Butte area. After the BLM terminated Bundy's grazing permit for failure to pay fees in 1998, Clark County, as administrator for the Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, purchased the grazing leases from the BLM for $375,000 and retired them in order to fulfill requirements under that plan to protect endangered desert tortoises.

Despite having no legal right to do so, cattle from Bundy's ranch have continued to graze throughout the Gold Butte area, competing with tortoises for food, hindering the ability of plants to recover from extensive wildfires, trampling rare plants, damaging ancient American Indian cultural sites and threatening the safety of recreationists. Surveys by the BLM have found well over 1,000 cattle — many in easily damaged freshwater springs and riparian areas on public lands managed by the National Park Service and state of Nevada as well as the BLM.

In April 2012, after the BLM inexplicably stopped a roundup of trespassing cattle under the 1998 court ruling, the Center filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the agency, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Clark County, Nev., under the Endangered Species Act for their failure to protect endangered species according to the terms of a "biological opinion" for the habitat conservation plan. Shortly afterward the BLM initiated the case in U.S. District Court of Nevada.

"The court has provided the BLM with a clear and undisputed mandate to proceed with what should have occurred over 12 years ago — to protect the rights of the American public by ending illegal grazing that has cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars while imperiling the protected desert tortoise. The foot-dragging by the departments of Justice and the Interior has been nothing short of a breech of duty and ethics."

 

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