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Sonoran Desert Tortoises No Longer Endangered, Researchers Say

Oct 07, 2015 12:52 PM EDT
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Endangered Sonoran desert tortoise populations have rebounded, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Thanks to aggressive conservation efforts, the tortoise no longer faces extinction and will therefore be removed from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) candidate list, according to a news release.

"This is yet another example of the power of the ESA in inspiring successful collaborations between states, landowners and federal agencies on behalf of America's most imperiled wildlife," Dan Ashe , FWS director, said in the release. "When you combine this with other recent efforts culminating in not-warranted findings, such as the New England cottontail, greater sage-grouse and others, it is clear that the ESA is accomplishing its intended purpose in a flexible and collaborative way."

The Sonoran desert tortoise was granted federal protection and listed as endangered in 2010 under the ESA. Rising human populations in Arizona and Northern Sonora in Mexico originally threated the native turtles' habitats. However, recent computer models suggest that humans and other environmental impacts are now less threatening.

"We and our federal and state partners will continue to monitor the tortoises. However, the current modeling in science demonstrates that there's virtually no probability of extinction over the next decade," Jeff Humphrey, a FWS spokesman, said in a statement.

For the recent assessment, the FWS identified six primary threats. This included altered plant communities, wildfires, habitat change and land development for agriculture and residential purposes, habitat fragmentation, human-tortoise interactions, and climate change.

Computer models projected the impact of these threats over the next 100 years. From this, they determined that there are currently between 470,000 to 970,000 adult desert tortoises remaining, none of which are facing significant population declines.

This decision is not favored by Taylor Jones, an endangered species advocate for the WildEarth Guardians, who claims development and highway construction has fragmented the tortoise's habitat, according to Arizona Capitol Times.

Tom R. Jones, an acting nongame wildlife branch chief for the Arizona Game and Fish Department, assures that development isn't a major threat because it's confined to the metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona.

"The vast majority of distribution of tortoises is away from urbanized areas," he said, according to the Arizona Capitol Times. "Habitat loss is not a primary threat."  

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Samantha on Twitter @Sam_Ashley13

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