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Environmentalists Decry Army Plan

Updated:
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Army may allot 2,500 acres of public land to the threatened desert tortoise in exchange for 131,000 acres to expand artillery training in a land pact brokered by two California lawmakers.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, had asked Army and Interior Department officials to negotiate a compromise to protect a desert tortoise habitat called Paradise Valley while allowing for expansion of Fort Irwin, 115 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

The tentative agreement reached Thursday still requires congressional approval, which could come as soon as Friday if the legislation is added to an omnibus spending bill, said Feinstein spokesman Jim Hock.

Feinstein called the deal ``a win-win for the environment and our military training needs.''

But environmentalists said the expansion is a death sentence for the reptile's west Mojave population.

The acreage reserved for the tortoise is less than two-tenths of 1 percent of the 1.28 million acres recommended this spring by a panel of environmental experts from state and federal agencies and universities.

Desert ecologist Daniel Patterson of the Center for Biological Diversity, who was on the panel, criticized presenting the land pact to Congress as part of an omnibus spending bill.

``If this is really a win-win, why can't they put forward stand-alone legislation? It's a lose-lose and we're going to do everything we can to stop it,'' said Patterson, whose center has sued successfully on behalf of threatened or endangered species on other occasions.

No one authorized to comment for the Army was reached at Fort Irwin or in Washington, D.C. in attempts made Thursday. But Army officials have said the expansion of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin is necessary to prepare soldiers.

The land to be protected is in an area bordering Fort Irwin called Paradise Valley, which some environmentalists acknowledged is the ``best of the best'' among desert tortoise habitats. But they complained that thousands of acres of prime habitat will still be lost to the base.

Approximately 10,000 tortoises now live there, according to Kristin Berry of the biological division of the U.S. Geological Survey in Riverside, Calif.

With a potential life span of 100 years, desert tortoises are the longest-living reptiles in the Southwest. They range in weight from 4 pounds to 13 pounds, and live in desert portions of California, Nevada, Arizona and Mexico.

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On the Net:

Desert Tortoise: http://www.tortoise-tracks.org

Fort Irwin: http://www.irwin.army.mil
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