The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Pets

September 7, 2013

Support flows in for sick desert tortoises

(Continued)

These weaknesses have combined with widespread habitat destruction in the quickly developing Southwest to dramatically reduce the tortoises' numbers.

The Bureau of Land Management has partially funded the conservation center through fees imposed on developers who disturb tortoise habitat, but when the housing bubble burst several years ago, that funding dropped far below what was needed to run the center.

"Here's an upside to this. It's gone international," U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jeannie Stafford said. "We have gotten hundreds of people saying they would like to adopt. Thousands of people signing petitions. It's been people wanting to help us with the situation."

But most of the would-be tortoise Good Samaritans cannot actually adopt the animals. Federal laws intended to protect the reptiles ban their transportation across state lines.

People who live in Nevada can adopt the slowpokes through the Desert Tortoise Group. But they should know that owners who kill or release their long-lived pets could face prison time.

The Humane Society of the United States is setting up a fund this week for out-of-staters who want to help but cannot take a tortoise home.

Despite the overwhelming response, the Bureau of Land Management is not reconsidering its plan to pull funding that goes toward the center's $1 million annual budget.

"Although it's wonderful that people want to give money, it won't change the outcome for the Desert Conservation Center," BLM spokeswoman Erica Haspiel-Szlosek said. "There just isn't money to keep it going, nor is it really the best use of conservation funds."

The agency plans to redirect the $810 fee that developers pay for each acre of tortoise habitat they disturb to environmental preservation efforts.

The center has historically taken in about 1,000 tortoises a year, but will stop accepting new residents in coming months.

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Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier

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