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October 1, 2013

Threatened Gopher Tortoises Rescued from Fla. Construction Site

HSUS, developers take tortoises to protected wilderness

Nokuse Plantation, D.R. Horton, Bio-Tech Consulting

  • The 28 gopher tortoise eggs saved from a development site in Apopka, Fla., started hatching on Sept. 6. Matt Aresco

  • The team rescued the tortoises and eggs, now safe at Nokuse Plantation nature preserve in Walton County, Fla. Matt Aresco

  • The HSUS helped fund the Rock Springs Ridge project and transported the tortoises more than 400 miles. Matt Aresco

  • Nokuse Plantation waived its normal management fees and will provide monitoring and permanent habitat protection for the lucky tortoises. Matt Aresco

After 47 days in the field, 227 threatened gopher tortoises have been spared an inhumane death and 28 gopher tortoise eggs have been saved from a development site in Apopka, Fla. The Humane Society of the United States, Nokuse Plantation, D.R. Horton and Bio-Tech Consulting teamed up to rescue the tortoises and eggs from the Rock Springs Ridge subdivision before relocating them to a permanent home at Nokuse Plantation, a nature preserve in Walton County. The eggs started hatching on Sept. 6.

Dave Pauli, senior director of The HSUS's Wildlife Innovations and Response Team, said: "We applaud D.R. Horton and Bio-Tech Consulting for acting to save the tortoises who were living on this site, and we hope other developers will follow their positive lead. The gopher tortoise is a threatened species, and this is a victory for the species and for the humane treatment of all wild animals threatened by urban development."

Florida did not require relocation or removal of gopher tortoises prior to construction until 2007 when the state listed the gopher tortoise as a threatened species. 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 slow and inhumane deaths for the animals.

Although developers with grandfathered Incidental Take permits are not required to relocate tortoises by law, D.R Horton and Orlando-based Bio-Tech Consulting took steps to ensure the safe removal of tortoises from the Rock Springs Ridge site. D.R. Horton further demonstrated their commitment to rescuing the tortoises by donating the cost of the backhoe operations.

Since 2006, The HSUS has worked with developers and Nokuse Plantation to rescue and relocate more than 4,000 threatened gopher tortoises from construction sites with grandfathered Incidental Take permits. These rescues have been made possible through private donations and grants from The Folke H. Peterson Foundation. The HSUS helped fund the Rock Springs Ridge project and transported the tortoises more than 400 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.

Facts

  • The western gopher tortoise population, from the Tombigbee and Mobile Rivers in Alabama 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, resulting in gopher tortoises being buried alive routinely on development sites. Existing permit holders were grandfathered in and may be transferred with property sales.
  • Many development projects were put on hold due to the slump in the housing market. As a result, thousands of gopher tortoises are still living on construction sites that hold grandfathered permits allowing the tortoises to be killed.

Developers who wish to collaborate with The HSUS to relocate tortoises are encouraged to contact The HSUS's Southern Regional Office at 850-386-3435 or The HSUS's Wildlife Innovations and Response Team at 202-452-1100.

Media Contact: Samantha Miller, 301-258-1417; smiller@humanesociety.org

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