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A stand of very short pine trees with long stringy pine leaves
Information icon Longleaf pine is the favorite habitat of many at-risk species, including the Gopher tortoise. Photo by Dan Chapman, USFWS.

Partners for Fish and Wildlife restore habitat to benefit gopher tortoise

The gopher tortoise, one of the signature species of the Southeastern United States, is considered an at-risk species. That means it is not yet classified as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but it needs a lot of conservation assistance to stay off that list.

A close-up photograph of a large tortoise on sandy soil
A survey of a parcel of land in Calhoun County, Georgia, found far more gopher tortoises than expected. Photo by Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

As a result, the tortoise has been on the receiving end of a long-term, dynamic collaboration among the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other governmental agencies, non-profits and private landowners. The strategy: Restore more longleaf pine habitat, home to the tortoise and dozens of other key species.

The Service’s Partners for Fish & Wildlife Program has participated in many cooperative agreements with partners to restore longleaf pine in the Southeast. Since 2018, the Service’s West Georgia Field Office has worked with the American Forestry Foundation (AFF) on private lands in southern Alabama and west-central Georgia.

Over two years, the West Georgia Partners biologist and AFF have worked on two habitat improvement projects (145 acres) in Alabama and 11 projects (2,020 acres) in Georgia, all with gopher tortoise on or adjacent to their property. Habitat improvement has included mid-story vegetation removal, site prep herbicide application, longleaf pine seedling planting and prescribed burning, native groundcover restoration, along with tortoise surveys.

In Calhoun County, Georgia, recently, a pre-habitat improvement survey of the property, conducted by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, found 338 burrows for an estimated population of 150 gopher tortoises. This was significantly more tortoises than had been expected, and habitat improvements on the property will not only benefit the existing gopher tortoises but likely result in eventual population increase within the property. A post-habitat improvement survey should provide that information in the years ahead.

Contact

Jim Bates, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Biologist
jim_bates@fws.gov, (706) 544-6422

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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