Clark County, NV Desert Conservation Program

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Clark County, NV, US

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Type: Program

Status: Launched in 1989

Source File:


THE PROGRAM - The Clark County Desert Conservation Program (DCP) was established through a collaborative forum of local government representatives, public land managers, private landowners, interest groups and individuals. Clark County administers the program, and a public advisory committee provides recommendations regarding the scientific, economic, and political actions of the program. The Clark County Desert Conservation Program is a dynamic and inclusive program that invites everyone to participate as well as respect, protect and enjoy our desert.

The DCP implements actions to ensure survivability of species in the wild. These actions include research, habitat restoration, public information and education, and fencing along roadways to reduce tortoise mortality. The DCP also implemented a desert tortoise translocation program in 1997. Through this program, tortoises that have been found wandering in developed areas, and those that have been displaced by development are ultimately moved to the Large Scale Translocation Site near Jean, Nevada. Preliminary data suggests that the tortoises, which have been translocated to the site, have adapted well to their new desert homes by exhibiting appropriate burrowing, hibernating, eating and socializing habits.

Some other examples of actions that Clark County is taking to protect the many native species including fish, birds, bats, butterflies, and plants include: rehabilitation, clean-up and protection of wildlife habitat, fencing along roadways to reduce animal mortality, research of species and habitats to help decide future conservation measures, reminding the public that their help in the conservation effort is vital.

HOW IT BEGAN - In 1989 the Clark County community was taken aback by the immediate listing of the desert tortoise as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service listed the species following a lawsuit filed by local environmental groups stating that the desert tortoise was not being adequately protected. Some of the factors responsible for tortoise population declines were: illegal collection, vandalism, disease, release of captive tortoises and spread of disease, agricultural development, urban growth, landfills, livestock grazing, road construction, and irresponsible off-road travel. In response to the listing, Clark County founded the Clark County Desert Conservation Program to provide mitigation for the species in lieu of continued development in the County. Efforts were made to protect habitat for tortoises and other desert plants and animals.

MULTIPLE SPECIES PROTECTION - In 1995, Clark County moved forward with the implementation of a Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan. This new plan directs measures that pro-actively conserve species through an ecosystems approach. Compliance with this plan and a subsequent Multiple Species Incidental Take Permit provides two benefits to Clark County. First, it reduces the likelihood that future species will be listed and second, it ensures Clark County protection against further requirements if any of the species covered in the plan become listed as threatened or endangered.

A valuable lesson of the Endangered Species Act is in notion that the tortoise is an indicator species. Therefore, the dwindling number of tortoises indicated that many species living in the Mojave Desert ecosystem, including humans, could be in trouble. Protecting all the intertwined ecosystems is important because they depend on one another for survival.

The Clark County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan provides conservation for 78 species of plants and animals, including the desert tortoise and their habitats. Protecting these species and their habitats reduces the chance of them becoming threatened or endangered in the future. Plants and animals need one another and all need healthy habitats to survive. The interaction of these species and their environments makes the continuance of life possible for all species, including humans.

PUBLIC INFORMATION AND EDUCATION - An essential component of the Desert Conservation Program is a Public Information and Education program. Public information and education efforts of the Desert Conservation Program focus on three themes: 1. informing people of the terms of the Clark County permit, 2. encouraging people to respect, protect, and enjoy the desert, and 3. increasing public understanding of the value of Clark County's natural ecosystems.

MOJAVE MAX, A LOCAL ICON - Mojave Max is a live tortoise residing at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. His emergence every year indicates the beginning of spring-like weather in Southern Nevada. Every spring, Mojave Desert reptiles, including the desert tortoises, respond to warmer weather and more daylight hours by emerging from their winters sleep.

Through the efforts of the Public Information and Education Program, Mojave Max has become a popular Southern Nevada icon. To increase awareness of Mojave Max and his emergence every spring, the Desert Conservation Program now hosts an annual Mojave Max Emergence Contest. Students in Clark County are encouraged to research Mojave Desert weather, temperatures, and conditions to scientifically estimate when they believe Mojave Max will first emerge from his burrow each year. Students can then log onto the official website, review the contest rules, and electronically enter their official guess. The winning student and his/her class receive prizes and recognition. The contest began in 2000. Participation, awareness, and excitement for Mojave Max's emergence is expanding every year. More information is available at

THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT - Since August 4, 1989, wild tortoises of the Mojave Desert have been protected under the Endangered Species Act. No taking is allowed without a special permit. Take means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, capture, or collect an animal.