LUCERNE VALLEY -- A veritable army of Testudinidae are all that's standing between the Marine Corps and the Marines' planned temporary closure of the Shared Use area this August.
Commonly known as desert tortoises, some 1,100 to 1,200 of the reptiles must first be "translocated" from the temporary military exercise area to a safe zone before the Marines get the green light to proceed. The Marines must follow stringent translocation guidelines established by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife. The most important consideration is moving the creatures when the temperature is just right, not too hot or not too cold.
A contingent from the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms and Bureau of Land Management representatives met last Saturday morning to conduct their annual Resource Management Group meeting and informational open house at the Lucerne Valley Community Center. There, a sparsely attended group of interested citizens and off-road enthusiasts joined the event to learn more about the Marine's plans, view maps and ask questions.
The Marines aren't new to tortoise translocation. In 2006, they moved 17 adult tortoises during the construction of a range. Also, the Combat Center's desert tortoise Headstart Facility has hatched and reared more than 475 desert tortoises. Young tortoises live at the Tortoise Research and Captive Rearing Site until they are mature enough to survive on their own.
Meanwhile, the Marines and the BLM are continuing plans for the military exercise.
"Once we know we'll let the public know," said Lauren Kurkimilis, deputy director of public affairs for the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. "We'll host a media day when they find out."
Last year's planned closure was reduced in size in part due to the tortoise translocation issue.
The Shared Use area consists of 56,000 acres for public recreation 10 months per year. For two months, Aug. 1-30 will be the next, the area will be closed for recreational purposes and instead used for military training. Another area of approximately 43,000 acres, known as the Johnson Valley Off Highway Vehicle Recreation Area, is open for year-round public recreation.