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A gopher tortoise walking through an open pine habitat.
Information icon Gopher tortoise. Photo by FWC.

Service, Department of Defense adopt credit strategy for Southeast installations benefiting gopher tortoise and other species

Leaders from conservation agencies sign the new strategy.
From left to right: Rusty Garrison (GADNR), Kipp Frolich (FWC), Fred Harders (ALDCNR), Will Dillman (SCDNR), Ryan Orndorff (DoD), Cindy Dohner (USFWS). Photo by Chuck Underwood, USFWS.

Tifton, Ga. – A first-in-the-nation conservation plan, crafted by the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, protects at-risk gopher tortoises here while helping military bases to continue training and testing missions across the tortoise’s Southern turf.

The Gopher Tortoise Conservation and Crediting Strategy – think of a savings account where the military can make deposits now (tortoise credits) that will be available for future use – will be officially unveiled at a ceremony in this Southwest Georgia community near the state’s newest WMA. The credit strategy was signed this morning in Tifton.

The goal is to keep the tortoise from being listed under the Endangered Species Act, a designation that could complicate the military’s training or bombing exercises.  This strategy encourages conservation investments first that will help keep the tortoise off that list.  If it makes the list in the future, the credit strategy will allow the military to continue its mission without new conservation requirements because of those early deposits it already invested in voluntary conservation.

“It’s a unique approach to help the military balance mission activities with conservation responsibilities,” said Maureen Sullivan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health. “We hope this innovative approach can serve as a model for similar initiatives for other species and in other regions of the country.”

“This crediting strategy ensures the military has the regulatory predictability it needs to carry out critical missions and training while at the same time providing conservation benefits for the gopher tortoise,” said Cindy Dohner, Southeast regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service.  “This kind of solution-oriented partnership offers flexibility for the military, private landowners, public agencies and others that keeps working lands working, contributes to our nation’s military readiness, and provides hunting, fishing and recreational opportunities.”

Since 2011, environmental groups have requested Fish and Wildlife evaluate about 500 species to determine if they are “threatened” or “endangered.” The Service has since determined that 97 of the proposed species don’t need federal protection.

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 Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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