« Read More News

Cadiz Water Project Protects Desert Tortoise

The Cadiz Water Project EIR determined the project won’t harm endangered desert tortoise – but that’s just part of the story. How the project protects desert tortoise is the rest of the story.

The Desert Sun recently covered a program undertaken by San Diego Zoo Global (yes, that San Diego Zoo) and Cadiz to “headstart” baby desert tortoises on land donated by Cadiz:

San Diego Zoo Global, the international conservation organization that operates the city’s famous animal park, has recently kicked of a program providing a safe environment for tortoise hatchlings before releasing them into their natural habitat, where they will continue to be monitored for research.

Referred to as “headstarting” programs by experts, initiatives like this provide an environment for the small tortoises to mature out of the hatchling phase, during which they’re the most threatened by predators. Just about 2 percent of tortoises survive this phase of their lives, according to a news release by Cadiz Inc, one of the zoo’s partners on the project. …

Aside from known predators and fatal diseases, there has been limited research on the factors at play in the desert tortoises’ demise, especially in the early stages of an animal’s life.

“It’s an understudied life stage, because they’re so hard to find in the wild,” said Lisa Nordstrom, associate director of recovery ecology at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Before their release, every juvenile will be fashioned with a radio transmitter to monitor their progress in the wild.

By tracking juvenile tortoises, researchers hope to gain more information about the relationship between habitat characteristics and survival chances, the threat levels faced by juvenile tortoises of different age groups and a number of other factors that may have an impact on tortoises’ chances of survival.

The project will nurse two separate tortoise cohorts, the first of which is expected to hatch soon. The second will join the program as eggs in early 2019. Both will be released simultaneously in early 2020. By releasing juvenile tortoises of two different age groups into their natural habitats in the Mojave and Colorado deserts, researchers hope to learn more about their individual survival chances in each environment.

“We’re really hoping to gain a lot of different information from this single study,” Nordstrom said. “We really need a lot more information to create a successful program and be able to increase those populations.”

Cadiz Inc., a publicly held utility company with land holdings in eastern San Bernardino County, provided crucial resources to the project by providing funds and land for the project’s new headstarting facility in a critical desert tortoise habitat.

“It’s a master plan of a resort for the desert tortoise,” said Tim Shaheen, the utility’s chief financial officer. “It’s very exciting to be part of a project to save a species from extinction.”

In 2015, Cadiz reaffirmed its commitment to protecting the Mojave Desert environment by establishing the Fenner Valley Desert Tortoise Conservation Bank that made available approximately 7,500 acres of Cadiz properties for permanent protection of habitat for the desert tortoise, a State of California and federally-listed threatened species. The Fenner Valley Bank was approved by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the public agency responsible for coordinating California’s land conservation banking program, and is the largest such land bank in the U.S.

The undeveloped properties included in the bank are distant from future Cadiz water operations, located in the Piute Valley area of eastern San Bernardino County, near the Mojave National Preserve, the Mojave Trails National Monument, and the Nevada border. The area is designated by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service as Desert Tortoise Critical Habitat.

« Read More News