Protection under the Endangered Species Act is a dynamic process. Many species in imminent danger of being extinct are immediate candidates. Others are removed from the list as population recovers.
This dynamic brought the Sonoran Desert tortoise the removal from the Endangered Species Act candidate list. Due to relentless efforts to bring population numbers to safe levels and create a safe habitat, the Sonoran Desert tortoise is now alive and well. One might catch a glimpse of the tortoises in Sonora, Mexico, or in southern and northwestern, as well as western Arizona.
In 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed the Sonoran Desert tortoise to be included on the ESA protection list. Now, as further reviews of the species’ status were conducted, it looks like the cute fellows are out of the dark.
The latest assessment of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that in one range spanning 38,000 square miles of the tortoise’s habitat, there are up to 970,000 adult Sonoran Desert tortoise. According to official statements, the population loss experienced at the time of the proposal to include the species on the candidate list for protection was due to urban development projects in the tortoise’s historic habitat.
According to Steve Spangle, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supervisor in Arizona:
“Our Special Status Assessment, a tool we did not have previously, showed that our federal land-management partners have been managing the species for more than 30 years and doing it well”.
The official assessment was based on population viability modeling, and included both threats that the Sonoran Desert tortoise in currently facing, and future threats. Among the most severe threats the species would be exposed to, the team working on the assessment found that landscape development in addition to urban development still ranks among the first.
From here, a number of consequences could prove harmful to the Sonoran Desert tortoise. Habitat fragmentation is among them. It is followed by fire regimes being altered, as well as flora and biodiversity being lost. Last, but not least, climate change and the way that we choose to manage the environment is also among the threats featuring in the computer models.
Protection under the Endangered Species Act is a dynamic process indeed. However, as the Sonoran Desert tortoise is removed from the protection candidate list, it is still under the protection of a similar act in Mexico. Arizona also considers the tortoise to be a ‘species of greatest conservation need’.
Photo Credits: public-domain-image.com