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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

May 26, 1999
Reed Harris (801-524-5001)
Diane Katzenberger (303) 236-7917 ext 408

Washington County to Receive $1 Million Grant to Benefit Desert Tortoise

The State of Utah will receive a $1 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to acquire lands in Washington County as part of a habitat conservation plan (HCP) to protect the desert tortoise.

Washington County began development of its HCP in the fall of 1990, following federal listing of the desert tortoise as a threatened species. As part of the HCP, the Fish and Wildlife Service and Washington County will acquire lands through purchase or exchange. These lands will be set aside as the Red Cliffs Desert Preserve.

"Like all HCPs, the Washington County plan represents a compromise -- a balance between the needs of the community for economic growth and stability, and the important goal of protecting the desert tortoise," said Ralph Morgenweck, Director of the Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region. "This is another positive step forward. We are learning how to make the Endangered Species Act work in Utah."

The primary mitigation measure of the HCP will be the establishment of a 61,000 acre desert tortoise reserve. Fences will separate the reserve from lands scheduled for development protecting tortoises from construction activities and preventing further fragmentation of their habitat. Although the reserve will be established primarily for the tortoise, it will also benefit many other species.

"The Washington County HCP is a result of all parties working together to find a mutually beneficial solution," said Reed Harris, Fish and Wildlife Service Field Supervisor in Utah. "This HCP will not only benefit wildlife, but also provide predictability and certainty to the community for long-range planning. Good things are happening in Washington County."

In addition to the reserve acreage, 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.

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.

There are currently 10 HCPs in place in Utah: one for the peregrine falcon, two for desert tortoise, and seven for Utah prairie dogs. An additional two HCPs are in the preliminary stages of development, both for Utah prairie dogs.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprising more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.

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