Getting Real about why the Desert Tortoise is Endangered
The recent standoff at the last remaining ranch in Clark County, NV has been widely attributed to environmental protection around the endangered desert tortoise; with the right wing trying to pin the blame on +Nevada Senator Harry Reid
for his support of the recent Ivanpah #solar
plant (which, incidentally, powers some of the servers that run Google+) but if you examine the real historical reasons for the decline of the Desert Tortoise you find that there is a much more interesting story about how sometimes our interest in protecting one part of the #environment
winds up unintentionally messing up another part.
Though the right-wing loves to blame Harry Reid for killing the tortoise through his recent support of the Ivanpah solar plant, the fact of the matter is that a very different environmental policy (also long championed by Harry Reid) is really to blame for the tortoise's habitat decline.
for an example of the kind of coverage it gets and http://mediamatters.org/blog/2014/04/11/the-nevada-tortoise-war-is-a-right-wing-false-f/198860
for a +Media Matters for America debunking of this myth.
The historic range of this species streches from where the the Colorado river meets the sea at the gulf of California west to the Mojave desert and north to about the northern edge of the Nevada Test site. Though Desert Tortoises are extremely robust creatures that can survive 140F temperatures and live without water for weeks on end, they do require a very specific habitat to live: they must live in desert, not suburbia. According to +Wikipedia
the main reason for the creature being endangered is habitat loss (read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desert_tortoise
) so what happened to the habitat and are our environmental policies to blame?
When you look at the map of Southern Nevada, you immediately notice something about the range I described, the northern half is now a nuclear wasteland, most famous as the site of Area 51, the eastern edge has been under Lake Mead since the building of Hoover Dam, and the western edge now sits under the Ivanpah solar plant, and most of the area that remains is now suburbia for the growing Las Vegas metro area.
Shockingly, Modern turtle populations are actually strongest in the nuclear wasteland of the Nevada Test site! Since there's virtually no human activity there because of the military's tightly controlled access, the number of tortoises there is booming despite the fact that it remains a radiation zone and weapons-testing range to this very day. Ironically, the main thing destroying populations of a creature that can thrive in a bomb blasted nuclear wasteland is the spread of suburbia with it's watered lawns and swimming pools.
In my opinion, the habitat loss of 3,500 acres from the solar plant (which, given the Nevada Test site example, might actually become better habitat for a heat adapted creature like the Desert Tortoise) is tiny compared to the effect of other policies. The real
culprit is the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act of 1998, which has caused the loss of 135 square miles of habitat.
SNPLMA funds Nevada's share of the burden of restoring #LakeTahoe
to pristine clarity without imposing any tax burden on Nevada Taxpayers by selling off federal lands near metropolitan Las Vegas to permit the endless expansion of what is now 140 square miles of urban sprawl into the desert as its population rose from 300,000 in the early 90s to almost a million residents now.
Harry Reid is very proud of this policy, since it has resulted in major Environmental gains for Lake Tahoe while imposing virtually no political or financial cost on the state, while also pleasing the very rich and powerful constituency that profits from the growth of the Las Vegas metro area. You can see him brag about how critical his involvement in its passage was by watching his segment of the 2011 Tahoe Summit here Tahoe Summit 2011: Jerry Brown, Brian Sandoval, Harry Reid meet to discuss future of Lake Tahoe
(about 10 min of an hour video)
I personally am an ardent supporter of SNPLMA for the purely selfish reasons that it brings huge amounts of money into my hometown and restores my
local environment at the same time; but it has to be acknowledged that this choice has environmental consequences; and like any policy (even the libertarian anti-policy of "no restrictions") it has winners and losers.