Is the Desert Tortoise the New Spotted Owl?

Republicans have a new animal to hate as a liberal mascot: the threatened desert tortoise. Energy entrepreneurs want to put solar plants in the seemingly barren deserts of the southwest, especially on cheap government land. But conservation groups say this is the last hold-out of what they call a charismatic animal that used to all the way to Los Angeles.

Early settlers could have found as many as 1,000 turtles per square mile. That means if you had a football field with endzones, you’d probably find a couple of them. The uselessness of this land is what makes it so wonderful for the tortoises, which have been decimated by cattle grazing, auto accidents, off-roading, an illness caught from released pets,¬† rattlesnake roundups and just general development. It’s also what seems to infuriate conservatives, who don’t want this animal–which you can barely see because it spends 95% of its life underground–messing up the first decent attempts at massive solar plants.

“If we cannot put solar power plants in the Mojave desert, I don’t know where the hell we can put it,” California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger asked. Heavy equipment would crush the underground dwellers. If you move them, they try to go back to their old home and get eaten by coyotes. The Army tried to move about 1,000 of them when it expanded Fort Irwin and it was a disaster.

So far there isn’t an overall policy, so we’re likely to see these skirmishes¬† with every one of

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