Since 1990, the desert tortoise has been protected by wildlife officials at the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center, a 220-acre reserve just outside Las Vegas, Nevada. Now, the tortoises are being threatened by the very people charged with their care.
When the housing boom took hold of Nevada’s real estate market in the 2000′s, there was plenty of money to go around. The Bureau of Land Management and its local partners were able to pay for the Center’s $1 million annual operating costs through fees developers were required to pay.
In 2008, the economic recession swept the country, hitting Las Vegas and the surrounding areas particularly hard. The housing market has not yet recovered in Nevada. Only $290,000 in developer fees have been collected over the past 11 months and local partners have backed out. With funds decreasing and the amount of tortoises being brought to the reserve on the rise, those involved see no way to make it work.
Officials plan to close the reserve at the end of 2014 due to lack of funds and euthanize the hundreds of tortoises in their care that are not deemed healthy enough to be released back into the wild.
The desert tortoise has roamed the Southwest for 200 million years, but less than 100,000 are thought to be in existence today.