The Humane Society of the United States, Nokuse Plantation and Deeb Family Homes have relocated 18 threatened gopher tortoises from a construction site in Tarpon Springs, Fla. The rescued tortoises were moved from the Keystone Springs subdivision site to a permanent home at Nokuse Plantation, a nature preserve in Walton County.
Until 2007, when Florida listed the gopher tortoise as a threatened species, the state did not require the relocation or removal of gopher tortoises prior to construction. Since 1991, the state’s incidental take permit program allowed the destruction of an estimated 100,000 imperiled gopher tortoises. The tortoises were often buried alive, causing a slow and inhumane death for the animals.
Although developers with grandfathered incidental take permits are not required by law to relocate tortoises, Tampa-based Deeb Family Homes took steps to ensure the safe removal of tortoises from its Keystone Springs site.
“The Humane Society of the United States applauds Deeb Family Homes for acting to save the tortoises who were living on this site, and hopes other developers follow their lead,” said Laura Bevan, southern region director for The HSUS. “The gopher tortoise is a threatened species, and each tortoise saved is a victory for the species and for the humane treatment of wildlife.”
Since 2006, The HSUS has worked with developers and Nokuse Plantation to rescue and relocate more than 2,200 threatened gopher tortoises from construction sites with grandfathered incidental take permits. These rescues have been made possible through private donations and generous grants from The Folke H. Peterson Foundation. The HSUS helped fund the Keystone Springs project and transported the tortoises more than 320 miles to Nokuse Plantation. Nokuse Plantation waived its normal management fees to help save the tortoises and will provide monitoring and permanent habitat protection for the animals.
“From the outset when we bought this property with an existing incidental take permit, we wanted to relocate these tortoises out of harm’s way,” said Richard J. Deeb, president of Deeb Family Homes. “We are grateful for the assistance from Nokuse Plantation and The Humane Society of the United States that allowed us to make it happen.”
“We are very excited to receive the tortoises from the Keystone Springs site and commend Deeb Family Homes and The Humane Society of the United States for working with us to save these animals,” said Matthew J. Aresco, Ph.D., director of Nokuse Plantation. “We will closely monitor the tortoises to ensure they acclimate well to their new home and will specifically manage their habitat so they will eventually be part of the breeding population. We look forward to working with other developers to save their gopher tortoises and relocate them to Nokuse Plantation.”
- On July 26, 2011, The United States Fish and Wildlife Service announced that gopher tortoises east of Mobile Bay will be added to the list of candidate species eligible for Endangered Species Act protection. The USFWS conducted a comprehensive review of available scientific data and found evidence to warrant listing the gopher tortoise in the eastern portion of the animal’s range as a federally threatened species. The western population, from the Tombigbee and Mobile Rivers in Alabama west to southeastern Louisiana, has been listed as a federally threatened species since 1987.
- The state of Florida listed the gopher tortoise as a Threatened species in November 2007.
- In June 2007, The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted a proposal to end the controversial gopher tortoise incidental take permit program that resulted in gopher tortoises buried alive on development sites. However, FWC grandfathered all permits applied for before July 31, 2007. These grandfathered permits have no expiration date and are transferrable with property sales. Due to the slump in the housing market, many development projects were put on hold. As a result, thousands of gopher tortoises are still living on construction sites that hold grandfathered permits allowing the tortoises to be destroyed.
- The HSUS, which has 872,000 supporters in Florida, continues to assist developers to relocate hundreds of tortoises off construction sites. To help fund this life-saving work, The HSUS has established a special gopher tortoise rescue fund.
- Additional assistance may be available for developments with grandfathered gopher tortoise incidental take permits. Developers who wish to collaborate with The HSUS to relocate tortoises are encouraged to contact The HSUS’ Eastern Regional Office at (850) 386-3435 or The HSUS’ Wildlife Response, Innovations, and Service department at (202) 452-1100.
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