Like a baseball player stretching muscles and practicing skills during spring training, the gopher tortoise is emerging from winter dormancy and moving slowly and steadily through the landscape in search of greenery to eat and a new place to dig its burrow.
Look for gopher tortoises’ distinctive domed brown shells and stumpy legs, as these land-dwellers make their way through Florida’s open canopy forests and sandy areas. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) asks people to remember that gopher tortoises are good neighbors, so leave them and their burrows alone.
“The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission works with, and is grateful to, the homeowners, landowners, businesses and public agencies willing to share their lands with gopher tortoises and their burrows,” said Deborah Burr, the FWC’s gopher tortoise plan coordinator. “This state has made progress in reversing the decline of gopher tortoises by providing direction to developers, including re-locating tortoises if necessary, and help to people interested in making room for tortoises.”
Florida’s first Gopher Tortoise Management Plan was adopted by the FWC in 2007 and is being updated this year as scheduled. More than 50 individuals and stakeholders already have made suggestions on improving the 2007 plan, and proposed draft revisions to the plan are available online at the GTTAG SharePoint site for review and public comment. To comment, go to MyFWC.com/GopherTortoise and click on the “Management Plan” link.
Since the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan took effect in 2007, an annual average of 36,000 acres of gopher tortoise habitat has been restored and managed; protected tortoise habitat expanded by more than 6,500 acres; and more than 4,000 gopher tortoises were humanely relocated from development sites.
“In addition to changes in Florida’s economy, the needs of the gopher tortoise have changed since the plan was first approved in 2007,” Burr said. “The proposed revisions to the plan include new actions that the FWC and our partners can implement together to improve the status of the species, and help secure viable populations well into the future.”
She added, “We will accept written comments on the first draft of the revisions until April 10. There will be additional public-comment opportunities through July on each improved draft of the plan.”
In Florida, it is illegal to harm gopher tortoises or their extensive burrows, which provide shelter to more than 350 other native species. Generally, the only time people should pick up and move a gopher tortoise is to help it get across a road. Remember, though, not to put the tortoise in your car. Do point the tortoise in the same direction it was going when you picked it up, but never put it in the water because it is a land animal.
The best long-term protection for this state-threatened species is the people who are aware of gopher tortoises’ needs and happy to share their lawns and lands with the tortoise that can live to 40 to 60 years in the wild.