Salazar: Sonoran desert tortoise is "Warranted, but precluded" from federal protection

Tortoise Takes Place in Line For Federal Listing

Sonoran Desert Tortoise

The Sonoran desert tortoise is the next in a long line of imperiled species that the Obama administration’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services has determined is “Warranted, but precluded” from the comprehensive federal protections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Sonoran desert tortoise now an endangered species candidate –

“Much like the Saguaro cactus, the Sonoran desert tortoise is symbolic of the rich Southwestern desert,” said Steve Spangle, the Service’s Arizona field supervisor. “A collection of various conservation partners have made great strides to better understand and protect the Sonoran desert tortoise, but our comprehensive analysis shows an increasing magnitude of threats is offsetting some conservation efforts. This candidate conservation status should increase opportunities for reversing this trend.”

It will be interesting to see how the alternative “candidate conservation status” measures will bring much needed protections to the tortoise, particularly given the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s acknowledgement that those conservation measures deployed have already fallen short.

Tortoise Takes Place in Line For Federal Listing News Release 12/13/10

In his finding, Secretary Salazar determined that the Sonoran desert tortoises may be threatened by all five factors the agency uses in deciding whether a species qualifies for Endangered Species Act protection: 1) habitat loss and destruction; 2) overutilization; 3) disease or predation; 4) inadequate legal protections; and 5) other factors. Under the Act, the tortoise needs only to qualify under one of these factors to warrant listing.

The sheer volume of species that this administration has thrown by the way-side in acknowledging that they qualify for full protection, but that they are of lower priority than other species, has cast significant doubt among conservationists about the biological integrity of this administration’s priorities in ESA listing determinations.

There are now over 250 species of plants and wildlife that are “candidates” for federal listing. Many of these species have been on the waiting list for a decade or more. Outside of Hawaii, Salazar has listed only 4 new U.S. species under the Act since taking office. At the current pace, it would take a century to process the backlog of candidate species in the continental U.S.

Conservationists argue that the Sonoran desert tortoise is an umbrella species occurring in southwest Arizona and northern Mexico, a landscape rife with threats.  This fact makes it that much more critical, and efficient, to extend the full protections of the Endangered Species Act to the tortoise.

In the world of conservation biology, scientists identify “umbrella species“, those species whose habitat requirements extend across an ecological community and whose well-being can provide an indicator as to the general health of the habitat.   When granted the federal protections of the Endangered Species Act these umbrella species can effectually extend those very protections to the many other species (including other imperiled species) that make up the ecological community of its habitat simply as a consequence of their shared habitat requirements and the protections of that habitat that accompanies listing.

Prioritizing these umbrella species promises a more efficient and effective administration of the Endangered Species Act, potentially providing restoration and recovery of a much larger swath of species and preventing the further backlog of species’ up for consideration at the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Instead, the Obama Administration continues to hold preventing politically controversial species from gaining protections as its priority, exacerbating the growing backlog of species rather than looking for ways to extend efficient “best bang for our buck” priorities that extend meaningful protections to the increasing living members of our world that agency scientists agree are “warranted” for Endangered Species Act protections.





  1. Virginia Avatar

    What on earth would it take to get rid of Salazar? His handling of the oil spill and this continuous refusal to protect threatened and endangered wildlife assures him a place in hell (if you believe in that of course.)

  2. Jeff N. Avatar
    Jeff N.

    Same outcome for wolverine this week, “warranted but precluded” also; read it in today’s paper. I am disgusted that this administration is no better than W’s in regard to protecting endangered species. Cowboy Salazar needs to go.

  3. Bryanto Avatar

    How many of these damn “warranted but precluded” rulings can we get? Correct me if I’m wrong,but If its warranted doesn’t that mean something need to be done about it? I can tell what their “other priorities” are,lining the pockets of their special interest buddies.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Salazar also did a warranted but precluded just the other day for the wolverine.

  5. Brian Ertz Avatar

    The Obama Administration has determined that enforcing the Endangered Species Act is “Warranted, but precluded” by other political priorities.

  6. skyrim Avatar

    When I finally retire for good, I am going to re-read everything Abbey ever wrote, re-energize my soul and my old Monkeywrenching ways, and find a better way to defend “Old Man Tortoise” once again. This peacful moderate bullshit doesn’t work, and I doubt it really ever did. : Buy shares of Caterpiller everyone, I have a feeling it’s going up…………………
    (This is not and endorsement for violence or vandalism)

    1. Virginia Avatar

      I like your attitude and my dream has always been to be a “money wrencher.”

  7. David Avatar

    Can someone help me understand the subtleties of the rule? I was under the impression that there was an obligation to act under the Endangered Species Act. Is this not correct?

    And what causes the hold up? Is it the actual lack of funding to do the recovery? Seems like we could at least list them (offering some protection, right?) but stall the recovery process? Is it just political wills being pushed for special interests? Or is there an underlying funding issue for the last several decades?

    1. SAP Avatar

      I don’t get it, either. One of FWS’s hang-ups seems to be that if a species is listed, they are then obligated to prepare a recovery plan. Doing that, and then implementing the recovery plan, is where the lack of resources (staff and the money to pay for them) comes into play.

      Is there any way to list a species just to get the “take” prohibitions (wolverines AND tortoises would both benefit from prohibitions on direct killing), and put off having to do a recovery plan?

      1. David Avatar

        Thanks SAP, that’s exactly what I was getting at, but couldn’t phrase.

        There have been some classic examples in the last few years of animals which deserve protections being shot with no repercussions: See the 2008 shooting of a certified wild gray wolf in MA. Or the Florida panther that dispersed to Georgia and was promptly shot by a hunter (who was not punished in any way). I guess those are both state issues, but… It seems like there should be repercussions for killing animals that are threatened, as a BASELINE level of protection.

  8. mikepost Avatar

    For all you wolfcentric folks out there, the tortoise brings a whole new herd of gored oxen onto the playing field. Other desert users such as off-roaders, motocrossers, atvers, the military, the big solar farm folks, mining interests, etc all do not want to see this listing happen.

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Brian Ertz