The Arizona Conservation Districts Sonoran Desert Tortoise Conservation Strategy
The Sonoran Desert Tortoise was added to the USFWS candidate species list on December 14, 2010.
In order to promote a voluntary approach to protection of the Sonoran Desert Tortoise, a group of Arizona Conservation Districts launched a partnership effort in February 2011 with US Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the USDI Bureau of Land Management and the Arizona Association of Conservation Districts. They spent over 3 years evaluating ranching activities, and the conservation practices that ranchers and agencies use to implement sound rangeland management in the Sonoran Desert. Ranchers and others can use these conservation measures to voluntarily protect and conserve the Sonoran Desert Tortoise and its habitat. If the Sonoran Desert tortoise is proposed for listing, Arizona’s Conservation Districts will encourage the US Fish and Wildlife Service to implement a 4D rule for ranching operations. The 4D rule would allow all of the normal ranching activities and associated conservation practices that have already been evaluated by this partnership to be implemented following the best mangement practices, without the need for project by project consultation.
The AZNRCD Sonoran Desert Tortoise Conservation Strategy calls for a combination of voluntary adoption of Best Management Practices, voluntary reporting of Best Management Practice implementation each year by landowners, formal agreements, Candidate Conservation Agreements (CCA), Candidate Conservation Plans Agreements with Assurances (CCAA), and monitoring, with support of state and federal funding. There is an Arizona Interagency Desert Tortoise Team led by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. This state and federal agency partnership developed a Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA) in February 2015 that ensures that the tortoise will continue to have adequate protection on public lands in Arizona. 15 Agencies have signed on to date.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department is currently developing a Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances (CCAA) can be used on non-federal lands. It provides incentives for non-federal property owners to engage in voluntary conservation activities that can help make listing the tortoise unnecessary. More specifically, a CCAA provides participating property owners with assurances that if they engage in certain conservation actions for the species, then they will not be required to implement additional conservation measures beyond those in the CCAA if the tortoise gets listed. The Arizona NRCD State Association and Winkelman NRCD are participating in the CCAA development process.
The Arizona NRCD State Association is now asking all of the Conservation Districts in the Sonoran Desert tortoise habitat areas to pass a resolution adopting the Best Management Practices for the Sonoran Desert Tortoise (see below). Each Conservation District is also being asked to adopt or develop a Conservation Plan for the Desert Tortoise similar to the one developed by the Winkelman NRCD (seee below). Arizona’s Conservation Districts will encourage landowners to follow the voluntary Best Management Practices to protect the tortoise, and will provide regular training in their local area.
Ranchers, farmers and landowners will be asked to voluntarily add these Best Management Practices to their conservation plans, and coordinated resource management plans. Voluntary adoption of BMPs by ranchers and other land users will provide protection for the tortoise on all of the private, state, tribal and federal lands under their management. The ranchers and other land owners will also be asked to voluntarily report their efforts to protect the Sonoran Desert Tortoise in an annual BMP survey which they will send to the Arizona NRCD State Association. The State Association plans to compile the individual reports into an annual report to the USFWS, grouping the information together in a way that helps protect private information and specific tortoise locations.
Partner organizations, including the Arizona Cattle Growers, Arizona Farm Bureau, Arizona Section Society for Range Management, Arizona Chapter of The Wildlife Society and others will be encouraged to adopt similar resolutions and voluntary Best Management Practices. County governments will be encouraged to adopt them as well.
Conservation of our wildlife and other natural resources can be done voluntarily, through a conservation partnership of Arizona’s Conservation Districts, private landowners, tribes, and state and federal agencies. The following documents provide the framework for the Conservation District strategy. Join our effort to work with Arizona’s conservation partnership to voluntary conserve this iconic species and its habitat.
As the State Association of Conservation Districts, we strive to support the conservation partnership at the state and national level, and raise awareness of what you do, while providing you with training, education, partnership opportunities & capacity building.