Fish and Wildlife, the military and state of Florida boost conservation at Camp Blanding

A large tortoise heading into a small hole in the sandy soil.

Gopher tortoise heading for a burrow. Photo by FWC.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service joined Florida conservation and military officials Thursday in a voluntary effort to keep the striped newt, gopher tortoise and 20 other at-risk species from being federally listed as endangered.

The Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances seeks to protect and restore roughly 46,500 acres of flatwood, sandhill and forested wetland habitat at the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center. In return, the Florida Armory Board receives a regulatory guarantee that, in the future, if any of the at-risk species reach endangered status, its military training won’t be impacted.

An orange and brown salamander with a bright orange stripe.

Striped newt at Big Bend WMA. Photo by Kevin Enge, FWC.

The board, along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Army National Guard are partnering with the Service. Today’s agreement is the latest step by the Service and dozens of public and private partners to boost conservation. Last month, for example, the Service joined with the U.S. Department of Defense and the state of Georgia to enact a first-of-its-kind credit program to bolster the gopher tortoise population.

The Service has been petitioned in recent years to add nearly 500 species to the threatened or endangered list. Already, 110 species of fish, wildlife and plants – including the Georgia aster, West Indian manatee and the Louisiana black bear – have been kept off the endangered list or had their status upgraded because of successful recovery efforts.

“Here in the Southeast, our goal is to proactively conserve as many species as possible without needing to have them listed,” said Leo Miranda, the Service’s assistant regional director for Ecological Services. “This far-reaching plan, and partnership, will save money, avoid regulation and better conserve these at-risk species.”

Florida is home to 127 at-risk species, more than any other Southeastern state. In addition to the striped newt and gopher frog – species in danger of making the federal endangered list – the Camp Blanding conservation agreement will help 14 petitioned and six state species “of special concern.”

Staff from the USFWS and Camp Blanding pose for a photo.

Front row, left to right: Kipp Frohlich from Florida, Maj. Gen. Michael A. Calhoun, Adjutant General of Florida, Leo Miranda, Assistant Regional Director Ecological Services, USFWS.

Already four federally listed species, including the red-cockaded woodpecker and the eastern indigo snake, call Camp Blanding home.

Myriad threats endanger the flora and fauna on the 73,000-acre installation – Florida’s primary national guard training site. Water quality, agricultural runoff, logging, disease and invasive plants harm the biodiverse habitat. The 15-year conservation agreement relies heavily on prescribed fires, and longleaf pine plantings, to restore a more natural and healthy environment for the at-risk species.

“The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is proud to partner with the USFWS, Florida Armory Board and the Army National Guard to conserve wildlife habitats and at-risk species,” said Kipp Frohlich, deputy director of the commission’s Division of Habitat and Species Conservation. “This habitat-based approach will eliminate or reduce threats to 22 species so that future listings under the federal Endangered Species Act will not be warranted.”

Download the Candidate Conservation Agreement with Assurances.

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.