Abstract We sampled 21 study plots for desert tortoises ( Gopherus agassizii) at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. Each plot was sampled once between 1997 and 2003 to obtain a snapshot of population attributes, status, and relationships between tortoise densities and human activities. Densities ranged from <1 to 28 tortoises km −2; overall, tortoises were uncommon to rare at 16 of the 21 plots. Tortoise densities were negatively correlated with death rates, infectious disease (mycoplasmosis), surface disturbance and trash. Health status of tortoises was correlated with some anthropogenic uses. The presence of infectious disease in tortoises was negatively correlated with distances from offices, the Ft. Irwin cantonment, and paved roads. Also, significantly more tortoises with shell disease were found on plots with current and recent military use than on plots with no history of military use. Factors contributing to or causing deaths of tortoises included vehicles, vandalism, predation, mycoplasmosis and shell diseases. Annual death rates for subadult and adult tortoises ranged from 1.9% to 95.2% for the 4 years preceding surveys. Deaths from anthropogenic sources were significantly correlated with surface disturbances, trash, military ordnance, and proximity to offices and paved roads—typical characteristics of military training areas.