EMAIL FROM U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE
OCTOBER 11, 2022
Subject: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Announces Notice of Findings on Gopher Tortoise
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has found that listing the gopher tortoise as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act is not warranted throughout its entire range. The agency determined that the eastern and western portions of the gopher tortoise’s range meet the criteria of Distinct Population Segments (DPS). An estimated 149,000 reported gopher tortoise individuals are distributed across their range with most found in the eastern segment and only 8 percent in the western segment.
The populations in the eastern segment, which includes Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and most of Alabama, do not require protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and will be withdrawn as a candidate for listing. The species in the western segment of its range in western Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana will retain its threatened status.
The gopher tortoise is a keystone species of the longleaf pine ecosystem, which used to comprise most of southeastern North America. The tortoise can grow up to 15 inches in length and weigh as much as 13 pounds, with hefty shovel-like front legs for digging. More than 400 animal species feed, shelter, and nest in gopher tortoise burrows. Development and conversion to other incompatible land uses have fragmented and destroyed its habitat. Climate change with rising seas and temperatures threaten the species.
The Notice of Findings for the gopher tortoise is available today in the Federal Register reading room at https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection. Tomorrow it will publish in the Federal Register available here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/current.
The Service is conducting a virtual public informational meeting Dec. 13, 2022, 7 – 9 p.m. EST to present the findings and address questions on gopher tortoise conservation and management. Registration information can be found here: https://www.fws.gov/project/gopher-tortoise.
Renee Bodine, Public Affairs Specialist
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - External Affairs
Florida Ecological Services