The Desert Tortoise Conservation Center outside Las Vegas has announced plans to euthanize hundred of animals due to a lack of federal funding. The 220-acre refuge area, which currently houses approximately 1,400 tortoises, has been caring for had been caring for the reptiles ever since they were added to the endangered species list twenty-three years ago.
"It's the lesser of two evils, but it's still evil," said Roy Averill-Murray coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s desert tortoise recovery coordinator during a visit to the soon-to-be-closed-down reserve.
During its tenure, the Bureau of Land Management has paid for the holding and research facility with fees imposed on developers who disturb tortoise habitat on public lands. While funds to support the annual $1 million tortoise budget ballooned during the 2000s, thanks to the housing boom that brought a boon of "McMansions" through southern Nevada, they evaporated quickly when the recession hit.
“The housing market never fully recovered, and the federal mitigation fee that developers pay has brought in just $290,000 during the past 11 months,” noted Murray, who added, “Local partners, who collect their own tortoise fees, have since withdrawn from the project.”
"With the money going down and more and more tortoises coming in, it never would have added up," commented Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Hillerie Patton.
Desert tortoises deemed healthy enough will be released back into the wild, though their fate remains uncertain. Despite existing in the area for more than 200 million years old, it is doubtful they will be able to adapt to life among encroaching strip mall, housing developments and solar farms without the center’s help. In fact, it is now estimated that less than 100,000 wild tortoises remain throughout Nevada, Utah, Arizona and California, where they once numbered in the millions.
Note: Although the tortoises have a lifespan of 100 years, many of the animals rescued by the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center are feeble and beset by respiratory infections