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FWC Order Weakens Protections For Imperiled Gopher Tortoise, Advocates Say

Gopher tortoise. Photo courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
Gopher tortoise. Photo courtesy Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Environmental groups say an executive order issued by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission leaves the imperiled gopher tortoise vulnerable to development. 

The groups say the order weakens protections for tortoises displaced by development by, for instance, waiving a rule prohibiting their relocation more than 100 miles to the north or south.

George Heinrich of the Florida Turtle Conservation Trust says the rule is aimed at preventing isolated populations. He describes the tortoise as a keystone species of Florida’s uplands.  

“The same habitats that are highly sought for subdivisions and trailer parks and so on. And tortoises dig these deep extensive burrows into the ground that can be as much as 40 feet, and over 365 other species use tortoise burrows.” 

The gopher tortoise is listed as threatened in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says the executive order addresses a capacity shortage for relocated tortoises. 

Elise Bennett of the Center for Biological Diversity says the order comes as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considers further protections for the tortoise under the Endangered Species Act. 

“I think what we’re seeing here in the state of Florida is that our mechanisms just aren’t effective and that we may really need this federal layer of protection, which includes habitat protection.” 

Amy Green covered the environment for WMFE until 2023. Her work included the 2020 podcast DRAINED.