Dec 14, 2021 - News

Gopher tortoise policy changes draw ire

A gopher tortoise at Savannas Preserve State Park sit in the sand.
A gopher tortoise at Savannas Preserve State Park. Photo: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In a spicy column for the Florida Phoenix, St. Petersburg author Craig Pittman sounded off on policy changes he says endanger Florida's gopher tortoises.

What's happening: Last month, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission executive director Eric Sutton waived several longstanding regulations regarding the moving of gopher tortoises for new development.

  • This includes a rule that bans moving a tortoise more than 100 miles away from its home.

Why it matters: Florida gopher tortoises are threatened, and the tunnels they build are also home to other threatened or endangered species.

  • The sandy scrub they build those tunnels in is a hot spot for building houses, but the price of relocating the tortoises is going way up.
  • Pittman reports that moving them more than 100 miles north or south not only disrupts their existing genetic connections, but also their ability to adapt to a new environment.

What they're saying: "Nobody knew it was coming," Gopher Tortoise Council co-chair Jeff Goessling told Pittman.

  • When Goessling first read the order "it caused me to go into a state of shrieking."
  • The commission did not immediately respond to Axios' requests for comment.

What's next: The commission is supposed to get a report on these changes tomorrow.

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