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US Fish and Wildlife Service Considering Listing the Gopher Tortoise in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama

Gopher Tortoise

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced in July, 2011 that they intend to add the gopher tortoise to the list of 250 threatened or endangered species protected by the Endangered Species Act.  The information was reported in a local Tampa newspaper and conservation groups welcomed this listing as “there is a lot of  abuse on the state policies”.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) “up-listed” the gopher tortoise from a “species of special concern” to “Threatened” in November 2007.  The state of Florida has a detailed and comprehensive plan for the preservation of this species.

Let me share a dirty little secret with all of you.  The addition of the US Fish and Wildlife to the permitting process to protect the gopher tortoise will only add time and expense to development.  USFWS will not necessarily force the preservation of the land in which the tortoises thrive.  USFWS will have a mitigation option just as the FWC has a mitigation option.  The mitigation option is to relocate the tortoises to other lands being preserved for them.  Preservation on the project site usually  occurs on very large projects e.g. 300 to 500 acres in size.  Most projects are much smaller than this and on site preservation is not feasible or good for the tortoise.  We have a number of tortoise conservation “banks” in the state of Florida which will be managed in pertetuity for the tortoise.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is doing an exemplary job of protecting the gopher tortoise and the animals that share their burrows.  Let the USFWS concentrate their efforts in other states that have little or no plan for the protection of the tortoise.