Fish and Wildlife Service Advocates Adaptive Management Approach to Recovery of Mojave Populations of Desert Tortoise

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) recently announced (PDF) the availability of the 2011 Revised Recovery Plan for the Mojave Population of the Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) (PDF).  The Plan calls for an adaptive management approach, something the Service says is necessary to "accommodate changing management needs" of the species.  In contrast, an earlier earlier recovery plan, finalized in 1994, focused on traditional mitigation measures to achieve recovery of the threatened desert tortoise.

Key elements of the 2011 Recovery Plan include developing, supporting, and building partnerships to facilitate recovery; protecting existing populations and habitat, and instituting of habitat restoration where necessary; augmenting depleted populations in a strategic, experimental manner; monitoring progress toward recovery, including population trend and effectiveness monitoring; conducting applied research and modeling in support of recovery efforts within a strategic framework; and implementing a formal adaptive management program that integrates new information and utilizes conceptual models that link management actions to predicted responses by Mojave desert tortoise populations or their habitat.

The Service characterizes the 2011 Recovery plan as a "living document."  Ren Lohoefener, director of the Service's Pacific Southwest Region, stressed that the "ability to conserve the Mojave population of the desert tortoise and lead to eventual recovery of this threatened species depends on science and innovation."  The 2011 Recovery Plan calls for regional recovery implementation teams that bring together individuals from land management, scientific, conservation, and land use groups to work with the Service to implement, track, and evaluate recovery actions.  According to the Service, "[b]y continuous examination of vulnerability, exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity of the desert tortoise, resource managers will be able to update the Plan as it is being implemented with conservation measures that will help the desert tortoise recover."

The 2011 Recovery Plan's adaptive management approach is highlighted by the Service's current plan to add a chapter focusing on measures related to renewable energy projects, something that environmental groups claim is sorely lacking.  The Service notes that, when the Recovery Plan was being developed, they did not anticipate the extent to which the landscape of the desert ecosystems in the Pacific Southwest might become modified as a result of newfound federal renewable energy priorities.  While the Recovery Plan does discuss renewable energy development in a number of locations (for example, it notes that impacts from large-scale energy development might impact the desert tortoise through habitat fragmentation, isolation of desert tortoise conservation areas, and the subsequent possibility of restricted gene flow between those areas), it does not provide a single, comprehensive strategy for addressing renewable energy.  The Preamble to the 2011 Recovery Plan notes that the new chapter on renewable energy "will act as a blueprint to allow the Service and [its] partners to comprehensively address renewable energy development and its relationship to desert tortoise recovery."

  • David J. Miller

    David Miller assists clients on a variety of complex land use and environment related matters, including matters dealing with the National Environmental Policy Act, Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act, and the ...

Nossaman’s Endangered Species Law & Policy blog focuses on news, events, and policies affecting endangered species issues in California and throughout the United States. Topics include listing and critical habitat decisions, conservation and recovery planning, inter-agency consultation, and related developments in law, policy, and science. We also inform readers about regulatory and legislative developments, as well as key court decisions.

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