Thursday, October 13, 2011
Four years after adopting Florida's first Gopher Tortoise Management Plan, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is asking the public to share its thoughts on improving conservation of the gopher tortoise, a state threatened species. The plan will be updated in 2012.
Florida has accomplished much for gopher tortoises in the past four years, including exceeding the 10,000-acres-per-year goal of restoring and managing gopher tortoise habitat. An annual average of 36,000 acres of gopher tortoise habitat is being restored and managed in Florida under the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan. Gopher tortoises' protected habitat also grew by more than 6,500 acres under the plan, with 14 of the 21 expansion sites occurring on private lands.
Additionally, more than 4,000 gopher tortoises were humanely relocated from sites slated for development. The plan's redesigned permitting system and identification of sites that will accept relocated tortoises played key roles in this process.
Loss of habitat is the main threat to the gopher tortoise's survival.
Citizens with suggestions on revising the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan can review the plan and submit their ideas online at http://share.myfwc.com/GT2/Lists/Input on Revisions to the GT Mgmt .... Public input will be accepted through Nov. 28.
"The current Gopher Tortoise Management Plan, developed and implemented in partnership with many stakeholders, guided us well in achieving measurable progress in conserving the gopher tortoise in Florida," said Dr. Elsa Haubold, leader of the FWC's Species Conservation Planning section.
Conserving the gopher tortoise is essential not only to the tortoise, which lives for up to 60 years, but to 350 other Florida species such as the indigo snake and burrowing owl, which share and shelter in the tortoise's extensive burrows. Adept at earth-moving, the tortoise digs out burrows averaging 15 feet long and 6.5 feet deep in well-drained, sandy areas such as longleaf pine forests, oak sandhills and coastal dunes. Under state law, the gopher tortoise, its eggs and its burrows are protected.
"We are grateful to private landowners, public agencies at the local, state and federal level, and other stakeholders for their partnership in conserving gopher tortoises and restoring their habitat," Haubold said. "By being adaptive and building on what we have learned and achieved during the first four years of implementation, we can revise the plan so Florida is more efficient and effective at gopher tortoise conservation. We look forward to public input to help us in this revision of the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan."
Another 62 wildlife species soon will join the list of Florida species like the gopher tortoise and bald eagle that are already under FWC management plans. Florida's new threatened species conservation model requires that management plans be created for all state-listed species and updated at specified intervals. As FWC staff begins the scheduled revision of the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan, work is under way to develop plans for the 62 currently listed species that do not yet have approved plans.
The Gopher Tortoise Management Plan and the other anticipated species management plans give the public an open, transparent perspective on Florida's efforts to conserve its diverse wildlife for future generations against the backdrop of a growing state with nearly 19 million people.
For more information on the gopher tortoise, please visit MyFWC.com/GopherTortoise.