Gopher tortoises get more protection
While loggerhead sea turtle tykes nestle in their nests during this last month of sea turtle season, their landlocked cousins, gopher tortoises, are busy burrowing in the beaches up and down Anna Maria Island.
A new plan to keep gopher tortoises safer for the next 10 years has just been approved by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), updating its five-year-old Gopher Tortoise Management Plan.
The gopher tortoise is a threatened species in Florida, and also is a candidate for listing as a federally threatened species. In July 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed a 12-month status review for the gopher tortoise and found that the species is warranted for federal listing as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but has not yet made the list because other species have higher priority, according to the FWC.
Loggerhead sea turtles already are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The new plan covers conservation of both gopher tortoises and the other animals that live in their burrows, including indigo snakes, Florida pine snakes, gopher frogs and Florida mice.
The burrows are typically six feet deep and 15 feet long, with more than 350 other animals depending on them for food and shelter, according to the FWC.
Over the past five years, 13,385 tortoises have been relocated from development sites, according to the FWC. The revised plan shifts emphasis from tortoise relocation permitting to non-regulatory conservation measures with the goal of eventually taking the gopher tortoise off the state imperiled species list and keeping it off the federal list.
Objectives include minimizing the loss of gopher tortoises, increasing and improving habitat, enhancing and restoring populations and maintaining the gopher tortoise’s function as a keystone species.
The gopher tortoise has been regulated in Florida since 1972 and has been fully protected since 1988; still, populations have declined.
Harming gopher tortoises or their burrows is illegal in Florida.