Graze under fire

A Bureau of Land Management decision to increase cattle grazing in desert tortoise habitat was stalled Oct. 1 by a judge’s ruling. The area in question was 136,167 acres of public land in the Ord Mountain Allotment, outside Barstow, Calif. Federally protected critical habitat for the desert tortoise made up 101,033 acres of that land. Administrative law judge Harvey C. Sweitzer said the BLM failed to provide a rational basis for increased grazing.

The conservation groups that brought the appeal forward include Western Watersheds Project, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Desert Survivors. The groups seek complete rangeland health surveys and other assessments needed for a full and informed environmental review, which is required by law. Dr. Michael J. Connor of the Western Watersheds Project said cattle may impact desert tortoises by trampling them, their eggs and their burrows; competing for food; degrading the habitat and promoting the spread of weeds and nonnative vegetation. The desert tortoise is Nevada’s official state reptile.