THE

DESERT TORTOISE COUNCIL
P. O. Box 1568 Ridgecrest CA 93556
6 July 2011

President Barack Obama The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear President Obama, The Desert Tortoise Council (DTC) is a private, non-profit organization composed of hundreds of professionals and laypersons who share a common concern with the conservation of wild desert tortoises, and a commitment to advancing the public’s understanding of the desert tortoise1 and its role as an indicator of desert ecosystem health. Established in 1976 to promote conservation of tortoises in the deserts of the southwestern United States and Mexico, the goal of the DTC is to assure the survival of viable populations of the desert tortoise within its historical range. To this end we submit this letter of comment on recent remarks made by Vice President Joseph Biden and President Obama concerning the desert tortoise. A website established to provide valuable information about the desert tortoise (deserttortoise.gov) and to coordinate federal efforts to recover this species was targeted by the Vice President as an example of wasteful spending. While these remarks may have been intended to further a message of reining in wasteful spending, the statements relating to this website are untrue, ill informed and inconsistent with a commitment to the desert tortoise2 and other species federally listed under the Endangered Species Act. A collaboration between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and private groups, this technical website cost a total of $2,500.00 to establish and $125.00 annually to maintain (we are uncertain as to exact salary costs). Through this website the public is able to access information without having to call federal agency personnel and, in so doing, pull these federal workers away from other pressing work. We understand that from January to April of 2011 the site was visited on at least 49,000 occasions. Citizens have a right to this information. The Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan (USFWS 1994), the draft revised Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan (USFWS 2008), as well as the General Accounting Office (GAO 2002), call for the dissemination of information describing what actions are being undertaken to recover Desert tortoise refers to Gopherus agassizii and the newly named species Gopherus morafkai (Murphy et. al. 2011). 2 The listed species, Gopherus agassizii, would be commonly known as Agassiz’s desert tortoise according to the most recent taxonomy.
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the desert tortoise and the status of the species throughout its range. Government personnel and private entities rely on the up-to-date information provided by this website for long-term planning relative to crucial projects affecting the species throughout its range, alternative energy developments and military base expansions being just two examples of significant projects. Informing the public of steps taken to implement a recovery plan developed for a threatened species is critical in furthering the transparency of federal agency processes, as now mandated by the Open Government Directive (OMB 2009). Certainly management of wasteful spending is important, as is efficiency in delivering information to the public, but we question the motive behind a baseless attack on an inexpensive website which disseminates valuable information. Such information can and does assist in planning for large-scale projects, particularly alternative energy developments and military base expansions, which have drastically affected desert tortoise habitat in the Southwest. A consensus has arisen, and is shared through the information provided by this website, that projects such as these should be limited to previously disturbed lands which are not critical to recovering the desert tortoise, to benefit both current and future generations of Americans. We believe that alternative energy development and species conservation can and should be resolved together, and not be cast in opposition to each other. The desert tortoise is a long-lived herbivore and the status of its populations reflects the health of the desert ecosystem. To effectively manage our desert resources, sound science that addresses the required recovery of the federally listed, threatened desert tortoise is essential. This information must be made available to a wide spectrum of the public. We are very concerned as to the quality of information that has been made available to the White House in support of recovering the desert tortoise and furthering the transparency of federal agency processes that affect this species. In a recent press conference President Obama has said, albeit in the context of budget issues, "a lot of people say a lot of things to satisfy their base or get on cable news. ... Hopefully, leaders at a certain point rise to the occasion and do the right thing." With this idea in mind we ask the Administration to take a clear position in support of this inexpensive website, which is valuable for the public and to state and federal agencies in disseminating crucial information; reduces federal agency personnel time and expenditures for mailing documents to interested parties; and addresses desert tortoise recovery. In doing so, the Administration would further the basic intent of the Endangered Species Act, instead of making it a scapegoat in the name of halting wasteful spending. Sincerely yours,

Margaret H. Fusari, Ph.D., Senior Co-Chair Desert Tortoise Council Cc: Vice President Joseph Biden The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500

Senator Dianne Feinstein 331 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510 Senator Barbara Boxer 112 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510 Senator Harry Reid 522 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510

References: Murphy, R. W. et al. 2011. The dazed and confused identity of Agassiz’s land tortoise, Gopherus agassizii (Testudines, Testudinidae) with the description of a new species, and its consequences for conservation. ZooKeys 113: 39-71. (http://www.pensoft.net/journals/zookeys/article/1353/the-dazed-and-confused-identity-ofagassiz) Office of Management and Budget (OMB). 2009. Memorandum for heads of federal departments and agencies; subject: open government directive. Executive Office of the President, Washington D.C. http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/assets/memoranda_2010/m10-06.pdf. United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 2008. Draft revised recovery plan for the Mojave population of the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii). USFWS, California and Nevada Regional Office, Sacramento, California. 209 pp. http://www.fws.gov/nevada/desert_tortoise/documents/recovery_plan/DraftRevRP_Mojave_Des ert_Tortoise.pdf. United States General Accounting Office (GAO). 2002. Endangered species research strategy and longterm monitoring needed for the Mojave Desert tortoise recovery program. GAO-03-23. A report to the Chairman, Committee on Resources, House of Representatives, and Senator Robert Bennett. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d0323.pdf. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1994. Desert tortoise (Mojave Population) Recovery Plan. Portland, Oregon: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. http://www.fws.gov/nevada/desert_tortoise/dtro_1994_recovery_plan.html

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