Threatened gopher tortoise may become listed as federally endangered
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) signed a resolution Thursday in Apalachicola urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) to recognize Florida’s strong conservation measures and actions to protect the gopher tortoise. The resolution asked the Service to not list the gopher tortoise in Florida as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Because the Service was petitioned to list the gopher tortoise as threatened in the eastern part of its range, including Florida, Georgia and Alabama, it is conducting a review to determine if the animal should be federally listed. The results of that review, which is required by law, are expected this year.
The FWC already lists the gopher tortoise as a state threatened species. The FWC and numerous stakeholders began implementing the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan in 2007 to ensure the species’ future. Florida’s Gopher Tortoise Conservation Program also includes Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines and a rule that protects gopher tortoises and their burrows (homes).
“We have a great conservation blueprint in place in Florida. Having the species listed at the federal level would not add more conservation or protection than we already have. In fact, it could result in unnecessary regulatory burdens for the residents of Florida,” said Rodney Barreto, FWC chairman. “Our plan was developed over several years with many partners who are helping implement the plan.”
Dr. Elsa Haubold leads the FWC’s Species Conservation Planning Section, which manages the gopher tortoise. Haubold said the Service is one of the FWC’s most important partners in conserving threatened fish and wildlife. The FWC provided significant information to the Service, which included specific scientific and commercial data. The data provided to the Service demonstrates that Florida has provided significant conservation of the gopher tortoise, specifically as it relates to the five factors that are the basis for making a listing determination under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, Haubold noted.
“Florida’s relatively new gopher tortoise program is already successfully conserving gopher tortoises,” Haubold said. “Continuing to follow Florida’s conservation blueprint will ensure that gopher tortoises are restored with secure, viable populations throughout their range in Florida.”
For more information about gopher tortoises in Florida, go to MyFWC.com/GopherTortoise.