FWS Completes Gopher Tortoise Review

FWS Completes Gopher Tortoise Review

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has completed a Species Status Assessment of the gopher tortoise in the Southeast and determined that the eastern and western portions of the range qualify as Distinct Population Segments (DPS). The FWS will continue to classify the tortoises in the western portion of the range (western Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana) as threatened, but the eastern portion has been withdrawn as a candidate species due to successful conservation efforts in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and most of Alabama.

“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,” said Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, the Service’s Southeastern Regional Director. “The Service will continue to work with our partners to support head-start programs, resource management plans, and other conservation coalitions to help conserve this keystone species.”

The 2013 gopher tortoise conservation strategy helped to drive collaborative efforts to implement habitat management and restoration projects. Funding through Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Longleaf Pine Initiative and Working Lands for Wildlife have supported technical assistance and project implementation on private lands. In addition, the FWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife program has facilitated habitat management actions to benefit gopher tortoise on approximately 65,000 acres of privately owned lands across the range of the species from 2010 to 2019.

The FWS notes that there is no formal comment period when a Notice of Findings is issued. However, recognizing the complexity of these findings, the FWS is planning a virtual public informational meeting on December 13, 2022, from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. EST to present the findings and address questions on gopher tortoise conservation and management. Registration information can be found on the gopher tortoise project website.

October 17, 2022