Desert Tortoises, Under Siege

photo, picture California Desert TortoiseDespite their dwindling numbers and imperiled status, I’ve been fortunate to encounter quite a few wild desert tortoises over the years, including this cooperative and patient fellow found in the Chuckwalla Mountains (photographed with my 4×5″ view camera; view cameras can be slow, but tortoises are slower!).

As if the tortoises haven’t had it hard enough, Fort Irwin is expanding its operations and is displacing and relocating many desert tortoises (760 so far). If only the relocation was successful. L.A Times story.

You’d think that we’d have learned by now that tinkering with nature generally produces unexpected and unfortunate consequences, yet “In an effort to prevent further losses, the Army has requested that the predators, described by one military spokesman as a “rogue clan of coyotes,” be eradicated by animal control sharpshooters.” Someone please help me with this one; how can the most powerful (and presumably smartest) military in the world not realize the stupidity of such a statement? They’re not going to target a “rogue clan”; they’re likely to kill every coyote they can find, “innocent” or otherwise. Further, when coyotes come under fire, they don’t vanish – they reproduce and expand their territory. Shooting random coyotes will accomplish nothing, as generations of ranchers have already learned. Why are innocent coyotes and tortoises going to have to pay the ultimate price for the U.S. Army’s blunder?

The Center for Biological Diversity will “file suit later this month against the Army, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management for allegedly violating the federal Endangered Species Act in their management of desert tortoises.”

They have my fullest support.

β€œTug on anything at all and you’ll find it connected to everything else in the universe.”
John Muir

The outstanding scientific discovery of the twentieth century is not television, or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little we know about it. The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”
Aldo Leopold

You are visiting the blog of fine art photographer Michael E. Gordon. For additional photos and information, please visit his official website.


8 thoughts on “Desert Tortoises, Under Siege

  1. Well done image Michael – especially with a 4 x 5!

    I heard that story on the radio just before leaving the Mojave Desert a few weeks ago and couldn’t believe it! The poor things get rousted from their burrows and home territories, and now it is the opportunistic coyotes that have to pay. Next it will be the ravens, bobcats mountain lions…

  2. Growing up by the Mediterranean, I remember tortoises (testudo graeca) being everywhere – in every field and hillside. As kids we’d play with them, sometimes bring them home and feed them lettuce before taking them back to the field.

    I still remember the day I opened a National Geographic magazine to find a picture of one on Canon’s endangered species showcase, listing surviving numbers as “unknown”. I was living in the US by then and it felt like yet another small piece of what was left of my childhood died right there.

    Controlling our own population is the only real solution.


  3. Thank you, Ron and Guy!

    You’re absolutely right on, Guy. Human population and expansion into wild(er) areas is at the root of most problems wildlife faces today.

    Thanks for commenting!

  4. Hey Michael,

    Nice image – thought you could’ve used a little fill flash with a Better Beamer on that. πŸ™‚

    Isn’t it just the craziest? Ya gotta love the language, eh: ‘a rogue clan of coyotes’? I’m surprised they didn’t say ‘a rogue band of gangster terrorist coyotes’ and request that the ‘evildoers be brought to justice’. It’s insanity.

    I’ve always loved that quote of Muirs. the Aldo Leopold one, I’m not so big on the first line. It implies this knowledge is a scientific discovery, and native people have known, and practiced, this concept for centuries. The rest of that statement is right on.

    As I’ve said before, I don’t really think the solution is ‘human population’ – a relatively small population density, like the US, has proven itself perfectly capable of destroying the landbase, just as efficiently than a larger one like China. Much of the Middle East desertification occurred centuries ago, long before population density was essentially a problem. Rampant over-consumption, now that’s a problem. Speaking of which, I’m headed to the store. πŸ™‚



  5. Center for Biological Diversity (based here in Tucson, btw) always has my support. It’s sad to see such blanket and unthought out statements being constantly made and acted upon.

  6. That’s an important story Michael and indeed a great example of how tinkering with the community of life without knowing how it works is folly.

    I agree with Carl about that first line in Leopold’s quote. Tribal people all over the world have known it for about 3 million years, not mere centuries though. We have forgotten an enormous lot in just 10.000 years…

    But I have to disagree with you on another point, Carl, namely that I think human population is indeed the greatest problem and that the argument of the US population being capable of destroying landbase does not entirely work in the way you use it. It does so partially because the US, like many “developed” (yugh, dirty word…) nations have ridiculous demands on their landbase to maintain Γ nd increase their livng standards. However, a great lot of what these “developed” nations do to destroy their landbase goes into producing food that is not needed in those nations itself. Instead they are shipped to other nations, where they do a great job of increasing the population there at sometimes amazing rates. Much faster than hat same amount of food would in the “developed” nations themselves, because the living standards in many of the receiving parts are so much lower. That is why much of the destruction “developed” nations bring to their own landbase may not be translated in local population increase, but it does undeniably do so elsewhere. And since this is a global story and a global problem, that is the only way to look at it. An ugly barb is of course that this shipping of food to other parts of the world where that food cannot be produced because the land basically cannot sustain the number of people by itself, is that the population there only outgrows the natural capacity of the local land more. And that makes them dependent on whoever delivers the food. And that gives power. If those parts of the world where the population has grown far over what that land itself can support, than the only way to maintain that population is to keep importing food. And since these populations often grow, hat import continuously has to grow.

    A great book explaining quite a bit about this is The Earth Policy Reader by Lester R. Brown.


  7. Hi Arthur! I’m glad you stopped by!

    I’m not terribly fond of that first sentence in Leopold’s quote either, but it’s an essential part of the whole ‘complexity of the land organism’ statement. Bear in mind that this quote is from the 1940’s (I can’t pin the exact date; ‘Round River’ was first published posthumously in 1953, Leopold died in 1948). We understood a lot less about ecology and conservation (and everything else!) sixty+ years ago, yet I’m still amazed today by the brilliance of much of Leopold’s writings and how ignored was his wisdom.

    I agree with your whole statement. The #1 problem facing the world today is overpopulation, and nearly everything else that is wrong in the world can be attributed to it.

    Thanks for commenting, Arthur!

  8. Pingback: Desert Tortoises: Under Siege Again! « Michael E. Gordon Photography

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