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ESR 42:167-184 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01045

Quantifying development to inform management of Mojave and Sonoran desert tortoise habitat in the American southwest

Sarah K. Carter1,*, Kenneth E. Nussear2, Todd C. Esque3, Ian I. F. Leinwand4,8, Elroy Masters5, Richard D. Inman3,6, Natasha B. Carr1, Linda J. Allison7

1US Geological Survey, Fort Collins Science Center, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526, USA
2Department of Geography, University of Nevada, Reno, Nevada 89557, USA
3US Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center, Las Vegas Field Station, Henderson, Nevada 89074, USA
4Cherokee Services Group, Inc., on contract to US Geological Survey, Fort Collins Science Center, Fort Collins, Colorado 80526, USA
5Bureau of Land Management, Arizona State Office, Phoenix, Arizona 85004, USA
6School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona 85287, USA
7Desert Tortoise Recovery Office, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Reno, Nevada 89502, USA
8Present address: Conservation Science Partners, Inc., Fort Collins, Colorado 80524, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Two tortoise species native to the American southwest have experienced significant habitat loss from development and are vulnerable to ongoing threats associated with continued development. Mojave desert tortoises Gopherus agassizii are listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act, and Sonoran desert tortoises G. morafkai are protected in Arizona (USA) and Mexico. Substantial habitat for both species occurs on multiple-use public lands, where development associated with traditional and renewable energy production, recreation, and other activities is likely to continue. Our goal was to quantify development to inform and evaluate actions implemented to protect and manage desert tortoise habitat. We quantified a landscape-level index of development across the Mojave and Sonoran desert tortoise ranges using models of potential habitat for each species (152485 total observations). We used 13 years of Mojave desert tortoise monitoring data (4732 observations) to inform the levels and spatial scales at which tortoises may be affected by development. Most (66-70%) desert tortoise habitat has some development within 1 km. Development levels on desert tortoise habitat are lower inside versus outside areas protected by actions at national, state, and local levels, suggesting that protection efforts may be having the desired effects and providing a needed baseline for future effectiveness evaluations. Of the relatively undeveloped desert tortoise habitat, 43% (74030 km2) occurs outside of existing protections. These lands are managed by multiple federal, state, and local entities and private landowners, and may provide opportunities for future land acquisition or protection, including as mitigation for energy development on public lands.


KEY WORDS: Public lands · Terrestrial development · Gopherus agassizii · Gopherus morafkai · Bureau of Land Management · Mitigation · Renewable energy


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Cite this article as: Carter SK, Nussear KE, Esque TC, Leinwand IIF and others (2020) Quantifying development to inform management of Mojave and Sonoran desert tortoise habitat in the American southwest. Endang Species Res 42:167-184. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01045

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