Environmental advocates worry gopher tortoises will lose protections

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne
Published: Updated:
Gopher tortoise
Gopher tortoise. (CREDIT: Conservancy of Southwest Florida)

Environmental advocates fear the gopher tortoise could lose some protections after a state agency decided to temporarily give developers more flexibility on where gopher tortoises can be relocated.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said more development in Florida has led to a greater need for places gopher tortoises can be relocated to.

But advocates for the animal believe the deviations to guidelines will lead to habitat loss.

“This whole thing just highlights the concern that the rate of habitat development, Florida has surpassed the rate at which tortoises can be relocated,” said George Heinrich, executive director of the Florida Turtle Conservation Trust. “When you move tortoises, you’re just moving one component of a really diverse, rich ecosystem. There’s lots of other species, over 365 are listed that occur in gopher tortoise burrows.”

One of the guidelines they removed was the 100-mile rule, said Elise Bennett, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. The rule was in place to make sure the tortoises aren’t moved too far from the type of habitat it needs to thrive.

“That’s a really big concern,” Bennett said.

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