Letters to the Editor: Desert tortoises mattered before they faced extinction

A tortoise
A desert tortoise at the Desert Tortoise Research Natural Area near California City on Oct. 10.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: The most hopeful aspect of reporter Louis Sahagun’s article about the fast decline in desert tortoise populations was The Times’ choice to put it on the front page. What happens to animals and the environment matters, profoundly, to human society.

The most depressing aspect may have been learning from the piece that in the 1950s, when desert tortoises were abundant, some gas stations offered one free with a tank of gas.

How did humans ever get the idea that we had the right to plunder wildlife and treat members of other species like objects to be grabbed and traded with no consideration for their well-being? If that right arose from their abundance, it would follow that we should totally ignore all concern for individual humans, given that our number has just reached 8 billion, which is way too many for the Earth to easily sustain.


But an individual’s right to freedom and happiness should not be dependent on the likelihood of the extinction of whatever species that individual belongs to.

Thankfully, societal attitudes toward other species, and the welfare or suffering of their individual members, are starting to shift — and with the help of media outlets such as The Times.

Karen Dawn, Santa Barbara

The writer is executive director of the animal advocacy group DawnWatch.


To the editor: The article asked, “Can California’s Endangered Species Act save the Mojave desert tortoise?”

The answer is no, unless it is aided by the federal Endangered Species Act and supported by an enlightened public that demands protection for the species and its habitat. Instead, tortoises are studied relentlessly and harassed even more. They’re removed and relocated from their natural habitat, theirs longer than ours.


Activities that harm the species are prioritized. It’s those activities that need to be removed. Tortoises should have been declared endangered by the federal government long ago.

We are in the the sixth mass extinction, exacerbated by climate change. Both are part of the human-driven Anthropocene geological epoch.

Our unsustainable lifestyle is the culprit. Solar and wind “farms” and off-road vehicles must be banned from and near the tortoises’ habitat. Some roads must be closed, and others must have their speed limit reduced.

Ultimately, we need to codify the rights of nature.

Robert Leyland Monefeldt, Los Angeles