The elusive desert tortoise

The Great Basin Institute (GBI), which houses the Nevada Conservation Corps, also runs a program geared towards the study and preservation of the desert tortoise. This tortoise is a native of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of the southwestern United States, and is federally listed as a threatened species. We only saw a few in their native habitats, but GBI has a center southwest of Las Vegas where it attempts to rehabilitate tortoises that are sick or injured, or tortoises that people have illegally kept as pets. GBI also spearheads a population monitoring program in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This program conducts line distance sampling monitoring annually to determine the desert tortoise populations in Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

This GBI program. To prepare members of this program for work with GBI, our NCC crew was chosen to aid in setting up a training course for to-be desert tortoise monitoring members. GBI prepares a GIS (geographic information system) course that has fake desert tortoises set up at specific locations. Using GPS and compasses, members practice by locating these fake tortoises. Our task this week was to ensure the fake, polystyrene tortoises were in the exact position that they should be in according to the GPS numbers GBI had on file.

We would sometimes come across a dead desert tortoise while traversing the desert outside of Las Vegas.

Our crew supervisor, Amanda, stands above a polystyrene tortoise to measure the distance between it and a center line of the practice course to ensure the fake tortoise is in a precise location. The polystyrene tortoises are painted to resemble an actual desert tortoise.

An NCC crewmember uses a compass to line up the correct location where a polystyrene tortoise should be located for the practice course.