Federal land management and defense officials have signed off on plans by the U.S. Marine Corps to move as many as 1,500 desert tortoises from an area recently acquired for training in Johnson Valley. The largest tortoise relocation effort ever in the Mojave Desert is toward the end of this month or in April. The move, however, cannot occur before March 21, the BLM’s deadline for anyone to appeal the approvals from the Navy and Bureau of Land Management. The move would clear about 88,000 acres of land in the Johnson Valley for expanded live ammunition training. The tortoises will be flown by helicopter to BLM lands mostly west and north of the Marine base. The Marines had planned to move the animals last spring, but the operation was delayed a year after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal notice that argued that required environment analysis was lacking. Ileene Anderson, a Los Angeles-based biologist for the center, said the move will be devastating to the species. The tortoises would lose some 136 square miles of quality habitat. What’s more, the displaced animals will move to BLM lands where the species is in decline, she said. “This is the largest translocation of tortoises in the Mojave Desert, and they’re moving them to areas where tortoises are dying off and we don’t know why,” Anderson said.