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Mojave Desert Tortoise on Shivwits Reservation - Photo Sarah Thomas

Deepening Our Understanding of the Mojave Desert Tortoise
The Shivwits – Whitish Earth People – Band of Paiutes have been residents of southwest Utah since time in memoriam. Strategies of perseverance, adaptability, and flexibility, which the Southern Paiutes of Utah have relied on over the centuries, have enabled them to maintain their cultural traditions in this region for at least 900 years and perhaps much longer.

In the Shivwits dialect, Pika’aya Tooveep means Tortoise Land. The Mojave desert Tortoise, with individual lifespans of 50 – 80 years, has inhabited this region for millennia. Throughout their range in southeastern California, northwest Arizona, and southwestern Utah, biological studies indicate that their populations are under great stress. The difficulties that the tortoise and many other species face all over the world are due to expanding urbanization, industrial and commercial development, and a rapidly changing climate. These large-scale changes now overlap in ways that threaten many species’ survival. Conserve Southwest Utah approached the Shivwits Band
Youth from the Shivwits Band After 
School program receive a visit from
Tank and Shelley who are 6 and 8
years old. (photo: Sarah Thomas)

with the idea of surveying the tortoise population on their land to improve our understanding of habitat conditions on the reservation.

Through discussions with the Shivwits governing council and other interested partners, the Pika’aya Toovep Field Survey has now taken shape. This partnership includes Conserve Southwest Utah, the Shivwits Band of the Paiutes, the Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan Administration, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and the Dixie State and Southern Utah universities. The project will undertake a professional wildlife biology study and provide internships for Native American and other students from DSU and SUU to give them on-the-ground experience in applied conservation science.
“The Shivwits Band has very few elders now and so we are glad that students will be able to visit with them. This will open the door and give them a chance to speak with our elders.”

Sabrina Redfoot, Shivwits Band Cultural Resources Director
Our role in the study will emphasize natural and cultural history. Sarah Thomas, CSU Public Lands Program Director, will coordinate outreach to the Shivwits governing council to keep them informed on the survey’s progress. Ms. Thomas and Professor Geoff Smith from DSU will consult with the Shivwits council and work with interns in preserving stories from Shivwits elders regarding their relationships to the land and the place of the desert tortoise in the lives and cultural history of their people.
The long view – integrated habitat corridor across undeveloped public lands. (map: Patrick Barickman)
We work with the Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF) as advocates and guardians of the public lands in southwest Utah. When we discussed the possibility of a local partnership for the tortoise survey, CLF gave us their support in the most concrete and consequential way. They are the single largest funder of the Pika’aya Tooveep Field Survey and without their generous support this project would not have gotten off the ground. 
The Conservation Lands Foundation is grateful to CSU and the Shivwits Band of Paiutes for pursuing this creative field study – and we’re excited to see how the broader partnership unfolds in the coming months and years. We know there is much to learn from your work together and are inspired to be helping get it off the ground.”     
Charlotte Overby, Senior Program Director
CLF funding will allow us to reimburse the Shivwits governing council for their time, participation, and access to reservation lands, fund three part time college interns during the academic year, and leverage our single staff person for directing the cultural stories component of the project.

For more information please contact Sarah Thomas.
Patrick Barickman
CSU Board Member
Conserve Southwest Utah
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