Press Release
Sonoran Desert Tortoise Does Not Warrant Endangered Species Protection
Media Contacts

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has completed a comprehensive scientific review of the status of the Sonoran desert tortoise and determined that it is not at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future. As such, it does not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Service has found the Sonoran desert tortoise currently occupies much of its historical range where populations remain stable, with estimates in the hundreds of thousands of adult tortoises. Available survey data have not indicated systematic declines or extirpations.

The primary threats to the Sonoran desert tortoise include: invasive nonnative vegetation and altered wildfire regimes, human development, human harassment and drought. Alone or in combination, these stressors remove or degrade habitat suitability over time and/or reduce Sonoran desert tortoise survivorship.

While several of these threats, mainly development and drought, may increase in scope or severity over time, the species and its associated habitat are projected to remain at levels that do not threaten the survival of the Sonoran desert tortoise  in the foreseeable future.

Natural resource managers continue to implement conservation measures to reduce impacts to Sonoran desert tortoises and their habitat. Collectively, 72% of Sonoran desert tortoise habitat in Arizona is managed by natural resource agencies or Tribal ownership.

Adapted for the desert, these long-lived herbivores spend most of their time below ground, sheltering in rocky desert slopes or dry creek beds, emerging to take advantage of rain events. Precipitation, particularly the summer monsoons, encourages the plant growth that Sonoran desert tortoises feed upon.

The collection of wild Sonoran desert tortoises in the U.S. remains prohibited. However, there remains significant concern over the surplus of Sonoran desert tortoises in captivity that need homes as a result of unplanned or unmanaged breeding of captive tortoises. Arizona residents interested in adopting a tortoise are encouraged to apply with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

Today’s finding will publish in the Federal Register on February 8, 2022 under Docket No. FWS-R2-ES-2021-0153. Images and other information about the desert tortoise are available at The Service remains interested in information regarding the status and conservation of, and any potential threat to, the Sonoran desert tortoise. Please submit information by email to

Sonoran Desert Tortoise - Endangered Species Act Timeline

1982 – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a notice of review, which determined the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) throughout its range in the United States and Mexico to be an Endangered Species Act (ESA) candidate species.

1990 – A final rule is issued, designating the Mojave population of the desert tortoise (occurring north and west of the Colorado River) as a threatened species under the ESA. Currently, the Mojave population of the desert tortoise is recognized as a distinct population segment (DPS) under the ESA.

2008 – WildEarth Guardians and Western Watersheds Project (petitioners) request the Sonoran population of the desert tortoise be listed under the ESA as a DPS, as threatened or endangered rangewide (in the United States and Mexico) and that critical habitat be designated.

2009 – In a 90-day finding, FWS found that the petition presented substantial scientific information indicating that listing the Sonoran DPS of the desert tortoise may be warranted.

2010 – FWS published a 12-month finding that listing the Sonoran DPS of the desert tortoise was warranted, but precluded by other higher priority actions, and the entity was added to the list of candidate species.

2011 – New information was assessed that elevated the Sonoran populations of the desert tortoise to a full species (Gopherus morafkai), and revised its accepted nomenclature to “Sonoran desert tortoise.” FWS also reaffirmed its candidate status in the Candidate Notices of Review published in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

2015 – FWS and cooperating agencies comprising the Arizona Interagency Desert Tortoise Team completed and committed to the “Candidate Conservation Agreement for the Sonoran Desert Tortoise (Gopherus morafkai) in Arizona.”

2015 – After completing a Species Status Assessment which for the first time used advanced population viability modeling, FWS subsequently published a 12-month petition finding determining that the Sonoran desert tortoise was not warranted for listing as endangered or threatened under the ESA.

2019 – The petitioners filed a complaint, challenging the 2015 not-warranted finding for the Sonoran desert tortoise.

On August 3, 2020 – The U.S. District Court approves of a settlement agreement between FWS and the petitioners, to reconsider our not-warranted finding and to develop a new 12-month finding as to whether the Sonoran desert tortoise warrants listing as an endangered or threatened species. As a result of that agreement, FWS withdrew their 2015 12-month finding, placed the Sonoran desert tortoise back on the candidate species list, and committed to finalizing a new determination by February 3, 2022.

Today This document constitutes the new status determination (12-month finding).