US: Gopher tortoise not threatened over most of its range

Oct 11, 2022, 5:03 AM | Updated: 3:34 pm

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Gopher tortoises — burrowers whose extensive homes shelter many other animals — are generally doing well and need federal protection only in the small area where they were declared threatened 35 years ago, the government said Tuesday.

Thanks to extensive conservation work and recently discovered populations, Georgia’s state reptile is no longer a candidate for protection in the bulk of its range: Florida, south Georgia, most of coastal Alabama and a sliver of South Carolina, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said.

An environmental group which sued for protection across the entire range called the decision indefensible.

“It ignores devastating urban sprawl that’s decimated the tortoise’s habitat and will continue to drive the species ever closer to extinction,” said Elise Bennett, Florida director and an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The National Alliance of Forest Owners, on the other hand, called the agency’s action a great decision that recognizes the success of voluntary conservation programs.

“More than just this single listing, this story is also about the success of a new approach to conservation,” spokesman Ethan Breitling said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said small, disconnected populations remain threatened in southeastern Mississippi and bits of Louisiana and Alabama, which together make up about 12% of the tortoise’s range.

“Efforts to improve conditions for the gopher tortoise have been effective, and it is important that scientists, experts and wildlife professionals continue to strategically use our best resources to help recover the gopher tortoise where it’s most vulnerable,” Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, the service’s southeastern regional director, said in a news release.

Although gopher tortoises average 9 to 11 inches (23 to 28 centimeters) long, researchers have found burrows up to 40 feet (12 meters) long. More than 360 kinds of animals have been found in occupied or abandoned burrows; the 60 vertebrate species include dusky gopher frogs,eastern indigo snakes and burrowing owls.

Logging and development are two of the gopher tortoise’s biggest threats. It lives in sandy upland forests with widely spaced trees, including longleaf pine savannas that once covered an area larger than Germany. Those once-extensive forests are now down to about 5% of that area.

Longleaf pine restoration, however, is among many programs that have helped gopher tortoises, the Fish and Wildlife Service said.

Gopher tortoises were among more than 500 species listed in 2011 as possibly needing protection to settle lawsuits brought by two environmental nonprofits, Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity and New Mexico-based WildEarth Guardians.

Bennett said Tuesday that the decision was made even though the federal agency expects populations to decline range-wide over the next 80 years — with the largest drops in Florida and the western part of its range.

She said the group is studying the decision and considering all options including another lawsuit.

“State programs, particularly in Florida — the heart of their range — are just not working,” she said Friday, as the federal deadline approached. “Florida is largely just moving them out of areas under development and into smaller and smaller habitat. And fragmentation is a problem already.”

The federal statement said Florida has 50 long-term relocation sites covering more than 120 square miles (310 square kilometers) of gopher tortoise habitat.

Many populations in the nearly 109,700-square-mile (284,100-square-kilometer) eastern area are in good condition despite threats that include climate change and sea-level rise as well as habitat loss and fragmentation, the federal agency said.

“Future projections … show that many healthy populations will remain across the range,” it said.

In the 15,000-square-mile (39,000-square-kilometer) western section, though, populations are smaller and reproduction is lower, and they have a low ability to rebound from population or environmental changes, the agency said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service said gopher tortoises currently live on about 161 square miles (417 square kilometers) of the area and are threatened — not endangered.

“Because gopher tortoises are long-lived, they will remain on the landscape for several decades despite current and ongoing threats,” it said.

___

To follow Associated Press coverage of climate and the environment, go to https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - An election worker verifies a ballot on a screen inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office...
Associated Press

Arizona counties face deadline to certify 2022 election

Six Arizona counties must decide Monday whether to certify 2022 election results amid pressure from some Republicans not to officially approve a vote count that had Democrats winning for U.S. Senate, governor and other statewide races.
9 hours ago
FILE - Meta's logo can be seen on a sign at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., on No...
Associated Press

Irish watchdog fines Meta 265M euros in latest privacy case

LONDON (AP) — Irish regulators slapped Facebook parent Meta with a 265 million-euro ($277 million) fine Monday, the company’s latest punishment for breaching strict European Union data privacy rules. The Data Protection Commission said Meta Platforms infringed sections of the EU rules, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, that require technical and organizational measures […]
9 hours ago
This image shows the logo for the website and newsletter TheRighting, founded by long-time New York...
Associated Press

The Righting deciphers conservative media for outsiders

NEW YORK (AP) — Nearly six years into monitoring the content of conservative media outlets for his website and newsletter The Righting, Howard Polskin hasn’t lost the capacity for surprise. Case in point: when Donald Trump announced his 2024 presidential candidacy, and many of his long-time media allies let fly with anger and insults. Two […]
9 hours ago
This photo shows Charles Graves dressed as Santa Claus in Austin, Texas on on Sept. 3, 2022. Graves...
Associated Press

Santa’s back in town with inflation, inclusion on his mind

NEW YORK (AP) — Don’t look for plastic partitions or faraway benches when visiting Santa Claus this year. The jolly old elf is back, pre-pandemic style, and he’s got some pressing issues on his mind. Santa booker HireSanta.com has logged a 30% increase in demand this Christmas season over last year, after losing about 15% […]
9 hours ago
FILE - Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and wife Gisele arrive to vote in Braddock, Pa, Tuesday...
Associated Press

Pennsylvania campaign wildcard Fetterman turns to governing

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — When John Fetterman goes to Washington in January as one of the Senate’s new members, he’ll bring along an irreverent style from Pennsylvania that extends from his own personal dress code — super casual — to hanging marijuana flags outside his current office in the state Capitol. Pennsylvania’s unique lieutenant governor, […]
9 hours ago
Associated Press

This Week: Consumer confidence, consumer spending, jobs data

A look at some of the key business events and economic indicators upcoming this week: CONFIDENCE CHECK The Conference Board delivers its latest index of U.S. consumer confidence Tuesday. Economists expect the reading fell in November to 98. That would follow a reading of 102.5 in October. A reading of 90 or better reflects a […]
9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
US: Gopher tortoise not threatened over most of its range