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Guilty Plea in Threatened Gopher Tortoise Case


June 10, 2002

Christine Eustis, USFWS, (404) 679-7287

On June 5, 2002, Gordon Roy Pate of Semmes, Alabama pled guilty before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Southern District of Alabama to one count of violating the Endangered Species Act by illegally trapping gopher tortoises from a property in Mobile County, Alabama. Pate was ordered to pay a penalty of $3,500.00. The gopher tortoise is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The law has provisions to allow development to continue while considering the needs of listed species. It allows landowners to apply for a permit to develop property while minimizing the impacts to listed species. However, the investigation revealed that Pate mistakenly believed that the existence of these threatened species would inhibit his ability to market the property for development.

"This investigation and conviction is important because of the rare and unique status of this species. It represents the hard work and dedication of special agents to enforce our federal wildlife laws." said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Our agents work cooperatively with our Ecological Service field office biologists in Daphne to implement the Endangered Species Act for the management and protection of endangered species and their habitat."

This conviction culminated from an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents in Alabama based on a complaint received from a concerned citizen that gopher tortoises were being illegally taken from their dens. After an undercover investigation, the special agents substantiated the complaint and the U.S. Attorney Office, Southern District of Alabama filed charges against Pate.

Pate knew the protected status of the gopher tortoise and told the undercover federal agent that he trapped and removed the animals from their dens because he did not want to "go through the system" to address the issues protecting endangered species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service will work cooperatively with permit applicants to develop measures that are reasonable to the applicant and minimize the impacts to the species. In addition, in the case of the gopher tortoise, landowners are able to pay money into a mitigation bank that supports the gopher tortoises' habitat in one area to offset the loss to development in other areas.

A gopher tortoise seized in the investigation has been returned to its den in the wild. The species is listed West of the Tombigbee and Mobile Rivers.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System that encompasses more than 538 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies. For more information go to

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2001 News Releases

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