Gopher tortoises begin their springtime maneuvers through Florida’s open canopy forests and sandy areas.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved revisions to its gopher tortoise permitting guidelines April 18 at its meeting near Tallahassee.
The guidelines are based on stakeholder input and designed to be consistent with the updated Gopher Tortoise Management Plan approved in September 2012.
Updated permitting guidelines provide adequate financial planning for the long-term management of gopher tortoise recipient sites, stipulations for the capture of tortoises for relocation when using a backhoe, and criteria to define when to suspend, revoke or not renew an authorized gopher tortoise agent permit.
This action comes during the time of year when gopher tortoises begin their springtime maneuvers through Florida’s open canopy forests and sandy areas. Tortoises are on the move in search of fresh greenery to eat after emerging from winter dormancy in their deep burrows.
“Ever since the 2007 approval of the original Gopher Tortoise Management Plan, the FWC has worked closely with stakeholders to improve and revise both the gopher tortoise permitting guidelines and the management plan,” said Deborah Burr, the FWC’s gopher tortoise management plan coordinator. “Conservation of gopher tortoises and their burrows that shelter other species is our long-term goal, so they always will be part of Florida’s landscape.”
Gopher tortoises live in all of Florida’s 67 counties, preferring high, dry, sandy places such as longleaf pine forests, oak sandhills, pine flatwoods and coastal flatlands and dunes. Their burrows can be recognized by the half-moon shape of the entrance, which curves at the top.
The gopher tortoise is listed as a state threatened species, and it is against the law to harm gopher tortoises, their burrows or eggs. Generally, it is best to leave a gopher tortoise undisturbed, unless you need to move it off a highway. Then it should be placed immediately on the other side of the road and pointed in the same direction that it was traveling.
Pinellas County Utilities workers had to delay a waterline project in Palm Harbor last summer after several tortoise holes and burrows were discovered. Experts were hired, who applied for a permit, and 12 tortoises were safely relocated to allow the project to go forward.
All without harm to one of Florida’s threatened species.