TWENTYNINE PALMS — A plan for desert tortoises is part of the final environmental impact statement examining a proposed expansion of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center.
The document, released July 27, deals in depth with how to avoid damaging populations of desert tortoises in the Johnson Valley land being examined for use by Marines in training exercises.
It describes creation of special-use areas, including one in which no mechanized maneuvers would be allowed and another in which bivouacs, off-highway vehicles or training involving vehicles will be discouraged but not prohibited.
The document proposes the combat center develop a program for moving tortoises from areas targeted for high and moderate use before the first large-scale training exercise.
The program would monitor tortoise health, habitat and population for at least two years before moving the animals from areas proposed for high and moderate impact by military training, the report suggests.
Based on the monitoring and analysis, the Marine base would devise a strategy to augment the tortoise population, supported by its ongoing tortoise headstart program based at the Tortoise Research and Captive Rearing Site. There, tortoise eggs and hatchlings are protected from predators and studied by biologists.