Weigh in on gopher tortoises
The gopher tourtise is a state threatened species
and it is illegal to harm the tourtises, their eggs
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is asking the public to share ideas about improving conservation of the gopher tortoise, a state threatened species with colonies on Anna Maria Island and Egmont Key.
Public input will be accepted on the updated version of the state's five-year-old Gopher Tortoise Management Plan though June 25.
In Florida, it is illegal to harm gopher tortoises, eggs or burrows. Loss of habitat is the main threat to the gopher tortoise's survival.
The threatened gopher tortoise, which lives up to 60 years, is classified as a keystone species because its extensive burrows offer shelter to more than 350 other species, such as the federally threatened eastern indigo snake.
Adept at earth-moving, the tortoise digs out burrows in well-drained, sandy areas such as longleaf pine forests, oak sandhills and coastal dunes.
When gopher tortoises decline, so do the occupants of their burrows, such as indigo snakes, gopher frogs and burrowing owls, according to Deborah Burr, the FWC's gopher tortoise plan coordinator.
"The revised draft Gopher Tortoise Management Plan for the first time addresses the total picture of the tortoise and its tenants," Burr said.
The objectives of the draft plan are to minimize the loss of gopher tortoises by ensuring humane, responsible relocation from lands slated for development, increase and improve species' habitat, enhance and restore populations where the species no longer occurs or has been severely depleted and maintain the species' function as a keystone species by also conserving other species.
Under the plan, Florida has made progress in slowing the decline of gopher tortoises by providing options to move tortoises off lands slated for development as well as opportunities for homeowners and landowners interested in conserving tortoises on their property.
Since 2007, the plan has restored and managed an annual average of 36,000 acres of gopher tortoise habitat, expanded protected tortoise habitat by more than 6,500 acres, and humanely relocated more than 4,000 gopher tortoises from development sites to public and private properties that afford the species long-term conservation.
Review the plan and submit ideas online at: www.myfwc.com/gophertortoise.