The Politics of the Tortoise and Other Reptiles
In 1989, the federal government decided to declare the Mojave desert tortoise an endangered species. Even though in 2002 the U.S. Geological Survey produced a report that found no strong case of any kind to support the notion that cattle grazing on lands inhabited by the tortoise was harmful to them, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that until it was demonstrated that it was not harmful, grazing would continue to be banned. The cattle ranchers of Clark County, Nevada were guilty until proven innocent.
It is not a coincidence that the tortoise was declared endangered just when the city of Las Vegas was growing rapidly and developers were hungry for more land. By using the Endangered Species Act, the federal government concocted a cozy deal with Clark County and the developers. The feds would grant a permit to develop on land occupied by the tortoise in exchange for the county buying out the ranchers in the area. The fundraising coffers of county and federal politicians no doubt experienced an influx of contributions from local developers as is common with crony capitalism. The ranchers were to be sacrificed for deeper pockets.
The ranchers took the federal government to court to fight the efforts to push them off the land and won twice. The federal government ignored the court orders and continued with their efforts. The same sort of action that rancher Cliven Bundy was roundly criticized for. Eventually, the ranchers could no longer afford the legal costs of the fight, especially against the federal government which can print money and the Bureau of Land Management which used the ranchers own grazing fees in the efforts to buy them out. Thousands of tortoises were relocated which resulted in hundreds of them being killed in the process. The public land in Clark County’s Dry Lake Valley has been zoned for solar energy and these enterprises can start as soon as the remaining tortoises are relocated. As serendipity would have it, a new home has been found for them by the BLM. The land currently occupied by Cliven Bundy. This has nothing to do with saving an endangered species and everything to do with a land grab and pay for play.
Victor Keith writes from Burbank, California and can be contacted at victorakeith.com