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Fire Hurts Desert Tortoise Population

Fire Hurts Desert Tortoise Population



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Alex Cabrero ReportingThe fires in southern Utah have threatened an already threatened species, the desert tortoise.

State biologists just finished monitoring the desert tortoise a couple of weeks ago. They figure about 1700 live in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve near St. George, and the population is no doubt a lot less now.

Utah state biologist Ann McLuckie knew she’d see signs of their deaths, but it’s still not easy.

Ann McLuckie: “It is emotional. I can imagine what he went through the last moments of his life.

Even though no homes have been lost in the Plateau fire, there was a lot of loss of life. The Plateau fire began burning Tuesday, most of its 3,000 acre path was in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, home to desert tortoises. Now McLuckie is wondering how many survived.

Ann McLuckie: “I am concerned. The fire burned in the highest density areas.”

There are some 1700 tortoises who nestle in the reserve. In 1990 they were put on the federally threatened list. That’s one step up from endangered, two steps up from extinction. The full impact of this fire on the desert tortoise won’t be known until the animals can be monitored again. But with so much destruction on the reserve, certainly there is an impact. Those animals that did survive the fire will now have a tough time finding food.

The Plateau fire began because of lighting, but biologist blame quick burning cheat grass for the disaster. It was never in the desert, but development brought more people with the seed traveling in clothing, shoes, and socks.

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