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Champions of protecting wildlife often use the cuddliest, furriest animals as mascots—you know, bears, wolves, pikas, and the like. But very quietly, while you were donating money to save those marquee mammals, a shy desert tortoise has been very busy siphoning off the money you thought would go to baby seals. Over the last 11 years, federal and state wildlife agencies spent more than $93 million protecting the endangered Mojave tortoise—that’s far more than they’ve spent on iconic animals like grizzlies, wolves, or bald eagles.
But before you go and drop-kick your kid brother’s pet box turtle, maybe you should think about socking it to salmon instead: Hundreds of millions have been spent protecting the embattled fish of the Pacific Northwest since budget reporting on individual species began in 1996. In fact, fish command more bling than almost all threatened land dwellers; at $39 million, the pallid sturgeon commanded last year’s priciest species recovery program.
That makes the $11 million spent on Mojave tortoise recovery look like a bargain, especially considering the difficult-to-manage reptile lives in sparse numbers across an immense range that includes Utah, California, Nevada, and Arizona. Part of the budget included using the U.S. Army to airlift several turtles out of an area of the desert planned for a military base expansion.
While turtles sometimes get helicopter rides, endangered plants got the biggest dis: Officials awarded a whopping $6 to help recover a rare Utah herb called the Barneby reed-mustard. Ouch.
Image Credit: Chris Selvig