Gopher tortoises are emerging from winter dormancy and moving slowly through the Gasparilla Island and Southwest Florida landscape in search of greenery to eat and a new place to dig its burrow.
The gopher tortoise is known by distinctive domed brown shells, stumpy legs - and a declining population.
"The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission works with, and is grateful to, the homeowners, landowners, businesses and public agencies willing to share their lands with gopher tortoises and their burrows," said Deborah Burr, FWC gopher tortoise plan coordinator. "This state has made progress in reversing the decline of gopher tortoises by providing direction to developers, including re-locating tortoises if necessary, and help to people interested in making room for tortoises."
The gopher tortoise can live to 40 to 60 years in the wild.
Florida's first Gopher Tortoise Management Plan was adopted by the FWC in 2007. More than 50 individuals and stakeholders already have made suggestions on improving the 2007 plan, and proposed draft revisions to the plan are available online at the GTTAG SharePoint site for review and public comment.
Since the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan took effect six years ago, an annual average of 36,000 acres of gopher tortoise habitat has been restored and managed, protected tortoise habitat has been expanded by more than 6,500 acres and more than 4,000 gopher tortoises were relocated from development sites.
Public-comment opportunities extend through July on each improved draft of the plan.
In Florida, it is illegal to harm gopher tortoises or their extensive burrows, which provide shelter to more than 350 other native species. Generally, the only time people should pick up and move a gopher tortoise is to help it get across a road.
Do not to put the tortoise in your car. Point the tortoise in the same direction it was going when you picked it up but never put it in the water because it is a land animal.