The Service has issued the permit based on negotiations with the Washington County Commission, public comment received through the National Environmental Policy Act process, and changes made to the Habitat Conservation Plan.
While it has taken a considerable amount of hard work and long hours to get to this point by not only the County, the Service, and many others, said Ralph Morgenweck, Director of the Service s Mountain- Prairie Region, I think that with the issuance of this permit and the habitat conservation plan in general, we can allow for development of the Washington County area and still allow for the long-term survival of the desert tortoise and other species dependent on that habitat.
As part of the HCP, the Fish and Wildlife Service and Washington County will be participating jointly in a research effort to relocate desert tortoises to nearby unoccupied Bureau of Land Management lands in an attempt to reestablish tortoises in areas not proposed for development.
Critical habitat designated for the desert tortoise includes a 61,000- acre reserve adjacent to lands that will be undergoing devleopment activities. Fences separating the reserve and lands to be developed will be erected in designated areas. These fences will help prevent loss of tortoises and further fragmentation of habitat in the reserve from any construction activities.
In addition to the reserve acreage and the tortoise relocation effort, an extensive educational program and center to be developed by Washington County will provide information on the desert tortoise, its habitat, and the desert ecosystem to the general public and Washington County residents.
Washington County began development of its habitat conservation plan in the fall of 1990, following federal listing of the desert tortoise as a threatened species. The desert tortoise is found in Mojave Desert habitat near St. George, Utah, and in Arizona, Nevada and California. While numerous threats to desert tortoise survival and recovery exist throughout its range, the loss and degradation of habitat through urban development is of primary concern in Washington County.
The Endangered Species Act provides for the issuance of Section 10(a) permits to authorize incidental taking (the loss of tortoises or their habitat) in connection with otherwise lawful private activities. Such a permit represents the only means of authorized incidental taking of an endangered species when there is no Federal agency action involved. An incidental take permit must be based on a conservation plan that meets all of the requirements of Section 10(a) of the Endangered Species Act.
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