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Gopher Tortoises May Be Added To List Of Endangered Species

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In 2006, scientists showed that the gopher tortoise population declined 60 percent. After another decade, the species is now being considered for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species list.

Gopher tortoises, found in Georgia and Florida, have been an issue for some developers.

Wesley Emmanuel, the project manager for Scherer Construction, said there are policies in place to protect animals like tortoises.

Emmanual said an employee walks the grid pattern to cover the entire site.  “Anything they found that they thought was either an active gopher tortoise burrow or an inactive one that maybe something else was in, they marked it in the GPS,” he said.

Emmanuel said in the past year, he had one construction site where gopher tortoises had to be relocated.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) hired people for that work, but construction was delayed 34 days to remove four tortoises.

When removal is not possible, construction must remain 25 feet away from burrows.

Tortoises might survive an encounter with a car but are often attacked by dogs or sometimes injured at construction sites.

“It is a shame that as our population grows and as our needs grow, that habitat for many, many animals is declining,” said Kathy Russell, a curator for the Santa Fe Zoo.

After the FWC removes tortoises from construction sites, the Santa Fe Zoo can provide rehab until an injured tortoise is strong enough to burrow again.  Then they can be released in the wild, usually at a protected area.

About Casey Albritton

Casey is a reporter for WUFT who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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