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Tue, Oct. 20

Federal decision reached on endangered species status for Sonoran desert tortoise
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides not to give Sonoran

PHOENIX - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) announced their decision not to list the Sonoran desert tortoise under the Endangered Species Act.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) support the FWS decision, announced Oct. 5.

For more than 25 years, AZGFD has dedicated considerable effort towards monitoring and researching Sonoran desert tortoise populations statewide. The extensive data collected over the years played a role in the Service's determination that the species does not warrant listing as endangered or threatened.

"The department fully supports and agrees with the federal decision not to list the Sonoran desert tortoise under the Endangered Species Act because our decades-long scientific studies show that the species is stable," said Thomas R. Jones, acting non-game wildlife branch chief for AZGFD. "We also have greater flexibility to conserve and manage a species that is not federally endangered."

In addition to the department's tortoise research, a recently developed conservation agreement between 17 federal and state partners that benefits the species statewide also helped the Service reach a decision. The agreement, a Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA), outlines effective conservation for the Sonoran desert tortoise and was submitted to the Service for consideration during their listing evaluation.

AZGFD led 16 federal and state partners in the proactive effort to develop a statewide conservation agreement to benefit the Sonoran desert tortoise in Arizona.

The CCA was completed to outline effective conservation for the species and submitted to the FWS for consideration as they evaluated the need to list the tortoise as threatened or endangered.

The agreement guided tortoise conservation actions across multiple agencies that have the potential to directly conserve the species in Arizona. It promoted a coordinated conservation approach statewide, integrated monitoring and research efforts, shared expertise and supported ongoing conservation partnership formation.

CCA partners include the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, National Park Service, Department of Defense, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Arizona Department of Transportation, and AZGFD.

Desert tortoises are native to the Southwestern desert and can live up to 100 years. They grow to be about 15 pounds and hibernate in the winter months. Desert tortoises eat plant material, including grasses and wildflowers. Once captive, desert tortoises cannot be released back into the wild. It is also illegal and harmful to desert tortoise populations to collect tortoises from the wild.

Arizona is also home to the Mohave Desert tortoise, which is an endangered species.

More information on the Sonoran desert tortoise is available at azgfdportal.com.

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