Facing a new generation of environmental stewards in minority neighborhoods, the National Parks Conservation Assn. has published a new Spanish-language edition of a book about desert tortoises illustrated with photographs taken by Southern California high school students.
Tortugas a Traves de la Lente: Una exploracion visual de un icono del Desierto de Mojave (Tortoises through the Lens: A Visual Exploration of a Mojave Desert Icon), published by Sunbelt Publications of San Diego, is a product of a $27,000 program sponsored by the nonprofit association.
Publishing the book in Spanish was not among the original goals.
"The idea arose in response to this question: Who are we trying to serve with this book?" recalled David Lamfrom, the association's associate director for the California desert region.
"It was obvious," he said. "The next generation is going to be filled with Spanish-speaking scientists, explorers and conservationists. We want to speak to them."
To chronicle the lives of desert tortoises, 13 high school students armed with digital cameras braved searing temperatures, lying on their stomachs in the sand and cactus spines to produce the book's compelling portraits of survival in extreme conditions.
The California desert tortoise, whose population has fallen to an estimated 45,000 on public lands in the western Mojave, is protected under state and federal endangered species acts. But the tortoises, which can live for a century, are extremely sensitive and have complex social lives.
They also face a host of threats: coyotes, ravens, invasive plants, respiratory disease and habitat loss.
Through it all, the students from Barstow High School, Needles High School, Desert High School, Excelsior Education Center, Victor Valley High School, Pete Knight High School, the Academy for Academic Excellence and a home-school program developed a keen appreciation for the art of wildlife photography and tortoise conservation.
"This gorgeous higher-quality book aims to encourage everyone to experience and protect our remarkable desert," Lamfrom said.