Army Endangers Tortoises, Groups Say

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The Army is threatening the survival of desert tortoises by relocating 1,700 of them to habitats rife with disease, so the Army can expand Fort Irwin, a training center in the California desert, environmental groups claim in Federal Court.

     The Center for Biological Diversity and Desert Survivors say the Army ignored the results of studies presented at the 2008 Desert Tortoise Symposium showing that the tortoises were being relocated to habitats with higher disease rates, where the relocated and hosts tortoises were preying on each other at a much higher rate than expected.
     According to the suit, the Army violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Protection Act by failing to consult with the Fisheries and Wildlife Service regarding the new information about the unanticipated negative effects of the relocation.
     The Army also violated the Endangered Species Act by transferring management of the sites to the Bureau of Land Management without environmental review and without consulting with the Fish and Wildlife Service, which the Army is required to do because the transfer “may affect” the desert tortoise and its critical habitat and “significantly affect the human environment.”
     The plaintiffs want an order directing the Army to do the required environmental reviews and consultations and an order stopping the expansion pending the findings. Plaintiffs are represented by Lisa Belenky from the Center for Biological Diversity. Also names as defendants are the US Bureau of Land Management, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and Brigadier Gen. Dana Pittard, the Commanding General at Fort Irwin.

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