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Photo Credit:
Dr. David Nelson,
University of South Alabama

First Federal Conservation Bank Announced for Threatened Gopher Tortoise in Mobile


June 25, 2001

Christine Eustis< USFWS, Southeast Region 404/679-7287
Barbara Allen, USFWS, Daphne, AL 334/441-5181 ext 33
Robert Bonnie, Environmental Defense, 202/387-3500
Mary Mullins, Bellwether Group (for Mobile Area Water and Sewer System) 334/433-3993, ext 201

For pictures and more information; Gopher Tortoise

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System, Environmental Defense, and Southeastern Natural Resources today announceda Habitat Conservation Plan for the threatened gopher tortoise at Converse Reservoir (Big Creek Lake) in Mobile, Alabama.

The public-private partnership creating a 222-acre conservation bank will help protect the threatened gopher tortoise and restore its increasingly rare habitat -- the longleaf pine ecosystem, for which it is a keystone species.

This is the first federal conservation bank for the gopher tortoise, and a first for the State of Alabama. This Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) demonstrates that species conservation and the needs of property owners need not be in conflict. With creativity and leadership by the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System, this plan allows development to continue while at the same time restoring and permanently protecting habitat for the gopher tortoise.

“It is a win-win partnership for the species, the habitat, conservationists, landowners, and local, state and federal officials,” said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “This is a great step in conserving the gopher tortoise and its habitat in the face of rapid development in Mobile County.”

How it will work:

  • A routine permit can now be issued to property owners for relocation of tortoises from their property to the bank property without lengthy delays.
  • Mitigation costs of $3,500 per tortoise cover species and habitat management at the bank in perpetuity, likely to be considerably less than the alternative of purchasing or setting aside valuable real estate within subdivided areas.
  • The bank enables construction to proceed without costly delays while restoring and protecting tortoise habitat.
  • Gopher tortoises receive permanent protection and on-going management, without which they cannot survive, in a larger, contiguous habitat.
“We are so pleased to be the host for this unique conservation bank which so perfectly illustrates the tenets of sustainable development,” said Mark Nix, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Mobile Water and Sewer System. “All of us are eventually responsible for helping to sustain the diversity of our environmental heritage, and through the help of these partners, we are taking a step in that direction.”

The gopher tortoise conservation bank will provide protection for other threatened and endangered species that depend on this special, but diminishing ecosystem. Among the 362 species using gopher tortoise burrows or longleaf pine ecosystems are the black pine snake, the eastern indigo snake, and the gopher frog. By offering realistic and beneficial options to landowners, the bank maximizes the conservation benefits for the entire ecosystem.

Habitat destruction is the greatest threat to gopher tortoises, particularly in Mobile County, which has undergone a 94 percent increase in residential development in the past eight years. Approximately 1,300 homes will be constructed this year, many of which will be located on lands that historically provided habitat for the dry land tortoise.

“This collaborative effort is indicative of how the Endangered Species Act should work. This plan meets the needs of the local community, creates positive incentives for habitat restoration, and establishes a reserve where gopher tortoises and the longleaf pine ecosystem will thrive,” said Robert Bonnie, Economist for Environmental Defense.

Gopher tortoises need large parcels of undeveloped land that are not fragmented by roads or other human development. At the same time, private property owners and developers need assurances that they can move forward with development without costly delays. Mobile County homebuilders need to be able to provide the necessary housing to support the expanding population in a responsible way that manages growth and prepares for the future.

The gopher tortoise is listed as threatened in southwestern Alabama, Mississippi, and eastern Louisiana under the Endangered Species Act, a law enacted in 1973 to protect species of plants and animals in danger of extinction. The law provides protection from direct human threats, such as killing and trapping, or habitat destruction.

The 7,000-acre area around Converse Reservoir -- the Mobile Water and Sewer System’s primary resource for providing water to the Mobile area -- sits in the midst of the area being most heavily impacted by new development. MAWSS, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Environmental Defense jointly developed the habitat conservation plan to provide solutions for Mobile County’s homebuilders while also benefiting the gopher tortoise. MAWSS agrees to set aside its private property without any development and to restore and manage it in perpetuity to provide optimal habitat for 125 gopher tortoises. Property owners who have gopher tortoises can be completely relieved of Endangered Species Act responsibilities by participating in this bank.

Please visit the following websites for additional information: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service:, Environmental Defense: and Mobile Area Water and Sewer System:

More Information about the Gopher Tortoise

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2001 News Releases

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