WASHINGTON, September 14, 2023 – Western Watersheds Project sued the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others for failing to protect the Mojave desert tortoise and 77 other rare species subject to the Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (Habitat Conservation Plan). The Habitat Conservation Plan was created to offset the development of nearly 170,000 acres of land on the outskirts of Las Vegas that would destroy habitat for imperiled desert species, in exchange for mandatory conservation measures.

“Between the impacts of Cliven Bundy’s thirty years of trespass livestock grazing in Gold Butte National Monument and the conversion of ungrazed desert habitats to solar farms, the desert tortoise and other species are getting cheated out of their side of the Habitat Conservation Plan bargain,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of Western Watersheds Project. “These species were supposed to be getting increased protection on public lands in Clark County in exchange for having their habitat on private lands permanently destroyed, but the federal agencies have failed to deliver.” 

By the Habitat Conservation Plan’s terms, the lands within what is now Gold Butte National Monument northeast of Las Vegas were supposed to be permanently closed to livestock grazing. However, Cliven Bundy has notoriously continued to illegally graze his cattle in trespass on these fragile desert lands.  The Bureau of Land Management has simultaneously authorized industrial-scale solar developments that fragment and degrade tortoise habitat on public lands intended for species conservation under the terms of the Habitat Conservation Plan.  Unsurprisingly, Mojave desert tortoise populations are in free-fall.

Nevertheless, the responsible authorities have failed to reinitiate consultation under the Endangered Species Act to address the ongoing and unchecked livestock impacts, and impacts of solar development, on the tortoise and other species.

“Clark County and the federal agencies wanted to preserve public lands to compensate for development around Las Vegas, but they haven’t ensured that the mitigation lands it is counting on to recover desert tortoises aren’t being destroyed by livestock operators and energy developers,” said Molvar. “Otherwise, it’s a lose-lose proposition for wildlife, and that violates the recovery mandate of the Endangered Species Act.” 

Western Watersheds Project is represented by counsel Dave Bahr and Talasi Brooks.

A copy of the complaint can be found online here.