Exempting developers from moratorium protecting the desert tortoise could imperil work in Washington County on a habitat conservation plan, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official warns.

Clark Johnson told the Washington County Habitat Conservation Steering Committee Tuesday he didn't oppose some exemptions to the federal Endangered Species Act - but too many could derail habitat conservation efforts.Johnson made his comments after committee member Ed Storey, representing the Utah Division of Lands and Forestry, reported his agency had been flooded by requested exemptions to a ban on projects below 4,000 feet elevation.

Storey recommended the state review such applications on a case-by-case basis.

Committee member Ron Thompson, representing the County Water Conservancy District, argued that exemptions should be granted if there is no data showing a particular area is habitat for desert tortoise or other threatened species.

Johnson advised waiting until the habitat study is further along before making exemptions.

"I can`t see any of those things (requested exemptions) being such a high priority that they can`t wait for results of the habitat conservation plan process," he said.

The committee approved paying $30,050 to SWCA environmental consultants of Flagstaff, Ariz., for tortoise-related studies.

SWCA spokesman Ron Borkan said a land use analysis, showing tortoise habitat and information on affected land ownership, should be finished by the end of July.