FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The federal government has agreed to consider whether the Sonoran desert tortoise, a Southwest icon whose population has declined by half in the past 20 years, warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Two environmental groups petitioned the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the tortoise, found in southwest Arizona and northern Mexico, as a distinct population.
The agency said yesterday that it would review the status of the tortoise and any threats to its habitat.
“We expect that the service’s detailed scientific review will show that listing is required to conserve these icons of the desert Southwest,’’ said Michael Connor of the Western Watersheds Project, which along with the group WildEarth Guardians filed the petition.
The tortoise is among 13 species and plants that environmentalists sought protection for with a series of petitions filed last fall as part of their “Western Ark’’ project.