The Long Slow Road of Gopher Tortoise Survival in Florida –

Vehicular strikes are very common for Gopher Tortoises on Marco Island and another major threat.
A newly installed Gopher Tortoise Caution Sign alerting motorists to slow down.
 A baby Gopher Tortoise.
 It is nesting season for Gopher Tortoises. Eggs are usually deposited close to the apron of the burrow.

A newly installed Gopher Tortoise Caution Sign alerting motorists to slow down.
Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) are the oldest residents of Marco Island. According to FWC, they are found in all 67 Florida counties and represent the largest portion of the total global range of the species.
 A baby Gopher Tortoise.
Marco Island has a small population of Gopher Tortoises, and according to Brittany Piersma, field biologist for the Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE), a group of gopher tortoise volunteers have recorded 2,897 potentially occupied burrows counted an estimated 1,449 gopher tortoises. AWE has embarked on a comprehensive land study locating where all the burrows are on Marco Island. This will help in getting more protection for this state-threatened species. 
According to the City of Marco Island, our Gopher Tortoise population can be found throughout the island with most occupying vacant lots. The areas surrounding S. Barfield, Inlet, and Dogwood are particularly densely populated. Due to the island’s rapid growth, gopher tortoises are losing their vacant lot habitat to home construction.
 It is nesting season for Gopher Tortoises. Eggs are usually deposited close to the apron of the burrow.
The following is a timeline of the challenges gopher tortoises have faced in Florida:
The Florida Constitution gave Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) the regulatory and executive powers with respect to wildlife including Gopher Tortoises and has been protected since 1979. 
In the 1930s, Gopher Tortoises were harvested for their meat, and during the Great Depression, they were referred to as “Hoover Chickens.” Gopher Tortoises have not always been protected.
In 1972, there was a ban on the sale and export of Gopher Tortoises.
In 1975, Gopher Tortoises were listed as state threatened.
In 1977 – Florida Endangered and Threatened Species Act was created and was overseen by the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission (FGFWFC) and later known as Florida Fish and Water Conservation Commission (FFWCC) or FWC.
1979 – Gopher Tortoises were reclassified as species of concern, meaning the population was low enough to require protection but not severe enough to be classified as threatened.
1988 – Racing of Gopher Tortoises for charity was banned; statewide ban on harvesting of gopher tortoises.
1991 – Incidental Take Permits (ITPS) are instituted. From 1991-2007, 94,000 per (FWC) gopher tortoise population had decreased significantly enough to be considered threatened. This policy was referred to as “pay to pave,” where developers could then bulldoze and build over the tortoise burrows, resulting in “entombment” death. 
Vehicular strikes are very common for Gopher Tortoises on Marco Island and another major threat.
2006 -Protection of burrows included.
2007 – Reclassified as state threatened as a result of the ITPS policy, resulting in the species decline. FWC also published its first Management Plan for the Gopher Tortoise.
2008 – Incidental Take Permit System (pave to pay) was discontinued and the relocation program to recipient sites began. 
2011 – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed a 12-month status review of the Gopher Tortoise and found that the species is warranted for federal listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) but precluded from being considered a “Candidate Species.”
2012 – An updated FWC Management plan (ten years) was approved to provide conservation actions emphasizing a non-regulatory approach to conserving the species revolving around its relocation program. 
2021 – FWC issued an executive order weakening the regulations affecting relocation fees and sites. Tortoises were being relocated to sites far from their home habitat and due to Florida’s development boom, some tortoises are being squeezed into smaller areas. 
2022 – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service denied protection for Gopher Tortoises under the Endangered Species Act.
2023 – The Center for Biological Diversity and Nokuse Education, Inc. filed a lawsuit in Federal Court in Jacksonville challenging the decision.
According to Elise Bennett, Florida Director and attorney at the Center, “It ignores devastating urban crawl that’s decimated the tortoise habitat and will continue to drive the species ever closer to extinction.”
In a 2021 study by the USFWS, it projected that by the year 2100 about 75% of the current gopher tortoise population could disappear. Despite these calculations, the federal agency denied Endangered Species Act protection to the Eastern population of Gopher Tortoises in the U.S.
“Gopher Tortoises will stay on a collision course with extinction until they get the strong Endangered Species Act protections that they’re entitled to,” said Bennett.
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