Endangered tortoise used as justification to assault Nevada rancher’s property rights
April 9, 2014
Months before the heated contention between the Bureau of Land Management and Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, purportedly over protecting an endangered species of desert tortoise, the BLM was euthanizing the tortoises in droves.
On Saturday, the BLM, with the help of helicopters, low-flying aircraft and hired cowboys, began rounding up Bundy’s cattle, and forbade him from interfering with the operation, as Bundy announced he was prepared to weather a full-on assault.
“My forefathers have been up and down the Virgin Valley ever since 1877. All these rights I claim have been created through pre-emptive rights and beneficial use of the forage and water. I have been here longer. My rights are before the BLM even existed,” Bundy said.
The BLM says they’re moving in, not to encroach on the man’s property rights, but because Bundy didn’t pay “grazing fees,” which the Bureau has imposed on land developers “who disturb tortoise habitat on public land,” according to the Associated Press.
Throughout the housing boom in the 2000s, the Bureau was earning enough to fund the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center (DTCC) in southern Las Vegas, a habitat “created in 1991 to house wild desert tortoises removed from the path of development and to use those tortoises to aid recovery of the species.” Its operating budget was about $1 million per year.
But the recession that followed dwindled the number of developers, and in turn funds for the DTCC.
So, facing the prospect of shutting their doors, the DTCC began releasing healthier turtles into the wild, and euthanizing some of the sick ones.
From the AP, August 25, 2013:
Back at the conservation center, a large refrigerator labeled “carcass freezer” hummed in the desert sun as scientists examined the facility’s 1,400 inhabitants to find those hearty enough to release into the wild. Officials expect to euthanize more than half the animals in the coming months in preparation for closure at the end of 2014.
“It’s the lesser of two evils, but it’s still evil,” Roy Averill-Murray, tortoise recovery coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service desert, told the AP.
Averill-Murray estimated 50 to 60 percent of the facility’s 1,400 tortoises were stricken with disease and could not be housed near healthy tortoises. Others were “too feeble to survive,” according to the AP, and could not be adopted out.
“The ones that don’t get better and that are sick and suffering will probably be euthanized because that’s the sensible thing to do,” Allyson Walsh, associate director for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research, said.
News that the tortoises were going to be set free or killed spurred people around the world to contact the refuge in attempts to adopt death row tortoises, and donations began flowing in hopes to keep the DTCC afloat, but the BLM estimated it wouldn’t be enough to sustain it overall.
“Although it’s wonderful that people want to give money, it won’t change the outcome for the Desert Conservation Center,” BLM Communications Chief Erica Haspiel-Szlosek stated. “There just isn’t money to keep it going, nor is it really the best use of conservation funds.”
The tortoises’ average 100-year life span also doesn’t exactly make them the most ideal pets.
Despite the imminent closing of the DTCC’s doors due to lack of funding, the BLM has gone on to round up about 234 of rancher Cliven Bundy’s cattle at gunpoint claiming they’re helping protect the tortoise and also claiming he owes them over $1 million in grazing fees.
At the same time, seizing and impounding all 908 of Bundy’s cattle would cost the government an estimated $3 million, a figure that would keep the DTCC thriving for another three years.
Interestingly, the BLM is also facing a lawsuit from various environmental groups suing on the grounds that the bureau “has failed to track the effects of a wide range of human activities in the California desert on the tortoise..”
All of this illustrates how the BLM’s dispute with Mr. Bundy has nothing to do with saving or protecting tortoises (most of which were given to the facility by people who owned them as pets, and which the BLM is either killing or releasing into the wild – animals raised in captivity don’t usually fare well in the wild) as they claim, and everything to do with making an example out of Mr. Bundy for having the gall to stand up for his property, bullying him into submission by brute force.