To save tortoises, limit procreation?

The Mojave Desert tortoise is listed by the federal government as a “threatened” species, which allows environmentalists and their government allies to impose restrictions on land use in Southern Nevada, supposedly to protect the reptile’s delicate wild habitat.

Anyone not familiar with this exercise in lunacy might draw the conclusion that tortoises prosper only in untouched arid desert, that upon sight of an approaching human or cow, let alone a human-generated dirt road or house or barn, the poor reptiles just roll over and shiver until they die of fright. But anyone drawing that conclusion might be puzzled by the new Nevada regulation set to take effect today, allowing owners of pet tortoises to keep only one such animal at a time.

Why? The Nevada Wildlife Commission, which adopted the regulation last month, says it’s a problem when tortoises pair up and breed. The last thing the government wants is a bigger population boom of this “threatened” species. In recent years, researchers charged with accepting strays have found themselves so swamped — up to 1,000 new, unwanted tortoises arrived each year — that the federal government’s Desert Tortoise Conservation Center at the south edge of town canceled pickups and stopped accepting new animals.

Leave aside for a moment the Nevada Department of Wildlife’s backward and politically incorrect refusal to allow domestic partnerships between same-sex tortoise couples. The fundamental purpose of the Endangered Species Act, explains spokesman Doug Nielsen (in a rare attack of plain talk), is to preserve the ecosystems on which the species supposedly depends, not simply to boost an animal’s numbers.

The tortoise is a mere cat’s paw. Should tortoise numbers “recover” (Note the reluctance of the species protectors to tell us the population at which no more “protection” is needed), this gang will merely turn up some new “threatened” weed or bug to play the same development-blocking role.

The real agenda of those who seek to win “endangered” or “threatened” designations for species including the tortoise has little to do with the weeds, bugs and reptiles that supposedly need to be saved, but everything to do with rolling back and blocking new use of vacant land by humankind.

The truth is, a suburban backyard is a favorite habitat of the tortoise, perhaps second only to the nearest golf course. The encroachments of mankind on the desert have not threatened the tortoise, which early explorers actually considered extinct; in the days before ranchers arrived to develop springs and tanks, the reptiles were so rare that all the travelers ever found were shells. In fact, the arrival of civilization has triggered a tortoise population explosion.

It would make about as much sense to block human beings from developing more of the arid Mojave Desert, in an effort to protect the rare and threatened pigeon.

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