ployees were now forced to undergorn”desert tortoise worker education classes,”rnbetter known by the participants asrn”desert tortoise sensitivity training.” Accordingrnto Alan Stein of the BLM, thisrntraining was supposed to “heighten people’srnawareness of the tortoise” and outlinern”what they can and can’t do.” Forrninstance, employees could no longerrndrive faster than 15 miles per h o u r -rnwhile maintaining a 100-foot separationrnbetween vehicles. They could no longerrnoperate heavy equipment without beingrnmonitored by government-authorized biologists,rnhired at company expense, tornmake sure no tortoises were in their way.rnTortoise-proof fencing was erected tornkeep the tortoise away from harm. Officialrnregulations called for employees tornstop work immediately if they spotted arntortoise, wait 15 minutes, and call therngovernment-authorized biologist tornassess the situation if the tortoise did notrnmove. Since waiting for a tortoise tornmove could literally take all day, employeesrnwould usually close an area if a tortoisernwas spotted and continue workrnelsewhere. Finally, a government detailrnof armed security agents was hired atrnMolycorp’s expense to patrol the cleanuprnsite 24 hours a day.rnAccording to the Endangered SpeciesrnAct, only government-authorized biologistsrncan touch a tortoise. In fact, Molycorp’srnemployees could not even move arntortoise away from obvious dangers suchrnas oncoming vehicles. If an unauthorizedrnperson moves a tortoise, U.S. Fishrnand Wildlife considers it a “take,” whichrncan incur penalties up to $75,000 inrnfines and a year in prison. In addition,rnMolycorp’s employees could not touchrnthe empty shell of a dead tortoise. Tornpossess a dead shell requires petitioningrnU.S. Fish and Wildlife for a permit,rnwhich would only be granted for a compellingrnscientific reason.rnThere are a number of other desertrntortoise protections, including an officialrntortoise adoption agency which placesrntortoises that cannot be returned to thernwild in suitable homes; a 24-hour TortoisernHot-Line to report violators of thernEndangered Species Act or to report arntortoise in danger; and a Tortoise Board,rna government agency which administersrna $550 per acre Tortoise Tax, imposedrnupon homeowners. At last count thernfiind had accrued a $14 million surplusrnto protect the tortoise.rnConsidering all of the restrictions onrnhuman activity, is the desert tortoise populationrnlikely to rebound? Actually, onernof the main threats to the tortoise isn’trnhuman at all. It’s the common raven, arnfellow inhabitant of the Mojave Desert.rnAlan Stein of the BLM explains that thernraven “flies down and it pokes throughrnthe shell and . . . basically eats the tortoise.”rnUnfortunately, according tornStein, the raven “can’t be killed” becausernit’s “protected under the Migratory BirdrnTreaty Act.”rnIronically, in light of all of these layersrnof regulation, the government doesn’trneven consider the desert tortoise as arnspecies to be threatened. A tortoise foundrnin the Mojave National Preserve is classifiedrnas an endangered species, giving itrnthe full weight and protection of thernUnited States government. But the endangeredrnor threatened status applies onlyrnto the Mojave population. The otherrntwo-thirds of the desert tortoise population,rnthose east of the Colorado River, arernnot considered threatened, and thus enjoyrnno federal protections.rnMoreover, the Mojave desert tortoisernpopulation is actually thriving. Stein admitsrnthat the BLM encountered “farrngreater numbers [of tortoises] than wernthought there would be,” including “arnlot of young tortoises.” Even U.S. Fishrnand Wildlife acknowledged that therernwere more tortoises in the Mojave populationrnthan they initially believed. AlexrnHeindl, a herpetologist at the Universityrnof Nevada-Las Vegas, explains that therntortoise was downgraded to threatenedrnstatus when it “became obvious thatrnthere were more tortoises than we hadrnanticipated.”rnIf the desert tortoise is not threatenedrnas a species, and there are more tortoisesrnthan anyone expected, why have governmentrnagencies gone to such extremes?rnPhilippe de Vosjoli, an expert on reptilesrnand amphibians and publisher of Vivarium,rnhas seen this kind of overzealousrngovernment action before. According tornVosjoli, the government believes it’s “basicallyrnbetter to uphold the law than to reallyrnsave animals. Because it’s not the animalsrnthat are a primary concern. Thernlaw is becoming a primary concern, andrnimplementing the law becomes a primaryrnconcern.” Vosjoli’s organization, thernAmerican Federation of Herpetoculturists,rnhas reported many similar armedrnfederal raids by the U.S. Fish andrnWildlife Service into homes with exoticrnreptiles and amphibians. “There [was]rnone recently that occurred in Oklahomarnwhere the individual was afraid theyrnwere going to shoot his dog,” Vosjoli reports.rnHe adds, “A man in Colorado wasrnraided and was also threatened with havingrnthe IRS investigate him. They dornhave DEA-type authority when dealingrnwith wildlife.”rnMolycorp has paid to date $6.2 millionrnin fines relating to the water spillrnand the tortoise regulations, and therngovernment agencies say they may berncamped out in the Mojave Desert “indefinitely”rnto monitor the spill site. SusanrnMessier, Molycorp’s former accountingrnclerk, recalls that Molycorp’s profitsrneach year were less than the governmentassessedrnfines and blames recent job lossesrnon the government’s regulations.rnSince the 1996 raid, Molycorp has beenrnforced to lay off about one-half of thernmine’s 230 employees, with more layoffsrnpending. “It seems . . . that there wasrnsomebody with an agenda out there thatrnhad nothing to do with the pipeline, andrnthey were just using that to further theirrnown agenda,” concludes Messier.rnIf there is an agenda, it probably hasrnmore to do with the California Democrats,rnSenator Diane Feinstein and CongressmanrnGeorge Miller, who authoredrnthe 1994 California Desert ProtectionrnAct. Both wrote stern letters to InteriorrnSecretary Bruce Babbitt in 1997, excoriatingrnMolycorp over the pipeline spill incidentrnand demanding harsh penaltiesrnagainst the mine. Senator Feinsteinrnwrote that Molycorp was “continuing tornput desert resources and the public atrnrisk” and expressed concern for “the endangeredrndesert tortoise habitat.” CongressmanrnMiller sought assurances fromrnSecretary Babbitt that his departmentrn”will be firm with Molycorp.”rnWith this kind of political force inrnplay, it comes as no surprise that there’srnmore trouble ahead. Sources close tornthe government investigation say Molycorprnis about to face criminal indictmentsrnwhich could sink the company.rnExperts wonder if the United States isrnprepared to deal with the consequencesrnof forcing the only source of lanthanidesrnin the country out of business. MurrayrnPage, an independent chemical engineerrnfamiliar with Molycorp’s operation,rnreinforces the consensus that if Molycorp,rnthe only American supplier of lanthanides,rnwere to shut down, the UnitedrnStates “would end up importing themrn.. . from China.”rnWeiji Cui of Baotou Rare Earth, arncommunist Chinese company, agrees.rnIf Molycorp goes out of business, BaotournAUGUST 1998/39rnrnrn