Dons
News

140 gopher tortoises relocated from burrows to Apalachicola National Forest

140 gopher tortoises relocated from burrows to Apalachicola National Forest

MAITLAND, Fla. — 

The St. Johns River Water Management District is relocating about 140 gopher tortoises from their burrows in an Orange County levee to the Apalachicola National Forest.

“Florida’s native plants and animals play an important role in maintaining balance in the surrounding ecosystem,” said St. Johns River Water Management district executive director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “While the district’s main goal in purchasing and managing land is to protect water resources, we also manage properties to protect those native species.”

Officials said finding a new home for the threatened species is necessary because their burrows can cause erosion that compromises the structural integrity of the levees. By nature, levees create an ideal home for gopher tortoises, who prefer to live in high, dry ground.

The process of moving the tortoises will takes several weeks. Officials said the staff will locate and flag burrows, then place a bucket below each burrow to catch the tortoises when they exit their homes. Once the tortoises drop into the buckets, certified contractors will take them to an approved location. The cleared burrows will be grouted and filled with a concrete mix that closes the passage, officials said.

According to a release, the Florida Fish and Wildlife conservation commission approved a gopher tortoise management plan nearly 10 years ago to conserve the threatened species. As a result of the plan, permitting guidelines require gopher tortoises to be humanely relocated off development sites by certified personnel. 

This is the third time that the district has participated in a relocation. The first was during the fall of 2014.