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County reviews desert tortoise protection plan

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Photo: Video by ktnv.com

County reviews desert tortoise protection plan

By Kean Bauman. CREATED Dec 4, 2013

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- $95 million: That's the price tag to protect nearly 80 endangered species in Clark County.

Now county officials are taking a hard at look the program you paid for, and whether you should keep paying for it.

$16 million was spent on conservation efforts to protect our state reptile, the desert tortoise.

"We're spending tens of thousands of dollars per mile just to put that fencing in so that the tortoise don't crawl on the road," said Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak. "And then we don't know if they'll burrow under the fence. What does this accomplish?"

County commissioners are taking a close look at the Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan to see if there's a way to stop spending so much. Commissioner Sisolak understands the need to protect species but wonders if the tortoise is really endangered.

"There are over a quarter million desert tortoises that we've accounted for. That they've acknowledged exists. Not counting the ones they've adopted out for people to have as pets in their back yard."

Commissioners want to see if it's to time to revise the habitat plan.

But others caution the comeback for the tortoise is moving at a turtle's pace.

"I think it's pretty ludicrous, actually, because desert tortoise has, since we really have started studying them shown a downward climb in it's population," said Rob Mrowka with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Mrowka points out that money for the plan comes from a $550 per acre fee paid for by developers.

"Actually there's no tax dollars that go into that whatsoever."

Sisolak said that's not true, "I don't care whose money. It's taxpayer money. Taxpayers are funding hundreds of millions of dollars for some of these things that I think have just gone beyond the point of being ridiculous."

Mrowka said it's too soon to make changes, "It's going to take a whole lot more action than what we're doing now and what Clark County is spending now, to get the tortoise delisted. But hopefully in the future, when we're talking 50, 70 years down we can make that determination."

Moving forward, commissioners are reaching out to federal law makers to see if tweaks can be made to the endangered species act.

The county will also reach out to other communities in California, Utah and Arizona which have desert tortoise habitat.