Save a Desert Tortoise – Buy this Book

Tortoises Through the Lens – it’s not just a photography class, but a movement to change the continuous struggle that tortoises must go through because of human interference. Rachel Wilson, TTTL Student

Until you’ve met and made the acquaintance of a Desert Tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), you’ll never know just how incredible are these creatures. I met this tortoise (at left) on April 3 in Joshua Tree National Park, and as I sat beside and talked to him/her – all the while snapping photographs – I felt the same joy I feel each time I am lucky to have one of these chance encounters. Here before me is a distinct and unusual species that has roamed North America for 50 million years or longer, and has existed in its current form – before the Mojave was a Desert – for roughly 18 million years. Beyond humility and respect, I can think of few other ways to behave and honor the presence of this incredible creature. To see these fellows succeeding and feasting on greens warms my heart. Yet their lives are far from without challenges….

Icons of the Mojave Desert, they were once ubiquitous, and many southern Californian’s unwittingly diminished their numbers by taking them home and keeping them as pets. I had one during the earliest years of my life, and it troubles me to think that my family (and the family from whom we adopted the tortoise) helped to possibly push this species towards the danger zone. Urban/suburban sprawl pushed development and housing directly into their Mojave and Colorado desert habitats, and by 1990 landed them on the Threatened list of the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, without human intervention and corrective actions, Gopherus agassizii will eventually land on the Endangered Species List and their lives will hang in the balance.

Enter my good friend David Lamfrom, the California Desert Program Manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. In 2008, David created a wonderful program entitled Tortoises Through the Lens; “a community-based action project created to provide thirteen California high school students with an opportunity to explore and experience the Mojave Desert.” For two years, David and his long-time partner (and great wildlife photographer) Rana Knighten, led these thirteen teenagers on trips into the Mojave. They would not only be given cameras and learn how to photograph under David’s tutelage, but they’d also learn how to commune with nature and tortoises and would document their encounters through their photographs. In late 2010, the results were published in a beautiful book entitled Tortoises Through the Lens – an important collection of images and words. This 50-page book details their natural history; the serious threats they face; and what the future has in store for them. Beautifully designed and printed by Sunbelt Publications – and only a mere $14.95 – this book should be added to your collection. Most importantly, proceeds go directly towards tortoise conservation. David Lamfrom is one of those true desert tortoise heroes; I ask that you please support the tortoises and his work with your purchase. Thank you!

Please purchase directly from Sunbelt Publications.

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

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Tortoises Through the Lens

The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) recently commissioned me to curate, print, and frame a wonderful exhibition entitled Tortoises Through the Lens. A community based conservation action project, Tortoises Through the Lens, works to educate and empower local high school students to learn about conservation through photography in the Mojave Desert. To raise awareness about the charismatic desert tortoise and to highlight the threats they are facing, the project is also publishing a Desert Tortoise Conservation photobook, which will be available in August 2010. By purchasing this inexpensive book, you are helping to save this important species, as all proceeds will be used to further desert tortoise conservation efforts.

From May 2 through August 7, 2010, the NPCA will feature a Tortoises Through the Lens photography exhibition that displays landscape, wildlife, and macro photography at the Desert Light Art Gallery inside the Historic Kelso Depot at Mojave National Preserve. The photos on display were taken by local high school students who explored the Mojave desert through the 18-month long Tortoises Through the Lens Community Action Project. Exhibit hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily.

I am honored and excited to have worked with this exhibition and to help advance awareness and conservation for this imperiled and important species. I’m also thankful and grateful to my friend David Lamfrom of the NPCA, who requested my expertise in putting together this exhibition.

I hope you all get a chance to see and support this exhibition. Thanks for helping desert tortoises and the Mojave Desert!

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

Desert Tortoises: Under Siege Again!

photo, picture California Desert Tortoise

photo, picture California Desert Tortoise

In a mid-May 2009 blog post, I reported on California’s Fort Irwin desert tortoise relocation program in an effort to expand their already enormous base (1000 square miles for maneuver and ranges; just how much space do they need?). Well, as the Center for Biological Diversity reports, nearly 50% of those translocated tortoises have perished. Relocating sensitive species does not work and this failure confirms that fact.

“The Bureau of Land Management and the Army continue to downplay the impact of this project on the survival of the desert tortoise in the western Mojave recovery unit,” Anderson said. “Releasing the notice on a Friday afternoon, providing only a 15-day comment period in August, and not immediately notifying the interested public gives the perception that the Bureau and Army are not really interested in the public’s participation.”

More at the Los Angeles Times. Draft Environmental Assessment information and comment links can be found here. Please speak out and voice your objections!

When I was younger, desert tortoises were ubiquitous. Seeing them in the wild now is a rarity and treat. Don’t let the military drive our wildlife close to extinction.

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

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.

Tug 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.