The Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee is a non-profit organization formed in 1974 to promote the welfare of the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) in its native wild state. Committee members share a deep concern for the continued preservation of the tortoise and its habitat in the southwestern deserts.
Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee activities include:
- Establishing desert tortoise preserves.
- Developing and implementing management programs for tortoise preserves and adjacent areas.
- Education and research.
The Committee raises funds through membership dues and tax deductible donations, illustrated lectures and the sale of merchandise. Funds are also raised for the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee through the workplace giving program Earth Share of California. The Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee is supported in its work by individuals, conservation organizations, wildlife groups and scientists.
Establishing Desert Tortoise Preserves in Areas of Prime Habitat
The Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee acquires land for tortoise preserves in areas of prime habitat using funds raised from the public, from conservation mitigation efforts, and through the operation of a land bank.
The Committee was instrumental in establishing the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area in Kern County, California. Within the designated boundary of this preserve lies 39.5 square miles of prime habitat that historically supported one of the highest tortoise population densities known. When it was first established in 1976 it included 16 square miles of habitat that was privately held. Since then, the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee, Bureau of Land Management, and California Department of Fish and Game have acquired a further 14 square miles leaving 2 square miles of small parcels in private hands. The Committee continues to acquire these parcels as they become available.
In 1995, the Committee and The Wildlands Conservancy bought out the 1,360 acre Blackwater Well Ranch in northwestern San Bernardino County, and gained control of grazing on the 49,000 acre (76.6 square miles) Pilot Knob cattle grazing allotment. Pilot Knob allotment includes mainly public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Committee is working with the BLM to develop a long-term plan for the management of biological resources, resource conservation, and restoration of critical habitat for the desert tortoise on the Pilot Knob Allotment. The Committee is seeking to permanently retire the grazing permit on the allotment. Pilot Knob offers an excellent opportunity to evaluate measures aimed at ecosystem and critical habitat recovery.
Developing and Implementing Management Programs for Tortoise Preserves and Adjacent Areas
To protect the biodiversity which the desert tortoise needs to survive, it is essential to develop and implement management programs for tortoise preserves and areas adjacent to preserves and critical habitat. The Harper Lake Road fencing mitigation program is an ongoing project of this type. The Committee is obtaining easements to construct a tortoise-proof fence along both sides of a 6.9 mile stretch of road leading to the Harper Lake Company’s solar power plant. Culverts positioned at selected sites will allow tortoises to cross under the road without risk of being crushed by Harper Lake Company vehicular traffic. The Committee expects the main phase of fence construction to be completed by spring 1999.
Conservation Education and Research
The Committee is active in conservation education and in facilitating research that helps protect tortoise preserve lands. In 1980, the BLM built an Interpretive Center at the entrance to the DTNA after extensive work on its design and content by Committee members. Each spring, the Committee staffs the Interpretative Center with a naturalist to help protect and interpret the site for visitors. Committee members and volunteers also maintain the DTNA’s self-guiding nature trails, and conduct guided tours for schools, museums and other groups. The Virtual Field Trip shows Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee members and volunteers at work.
The Committee has launched the Mojave Desert Discovery Centers project, an ambitious desert-wide public education project. Educational kiosks located at desert visitor centers provide educational programs to people traveling through the desert. Focused on the desert tortoise, presentations also feature desert ecosystems and the impacts of human activities on fragile environmental systems.