- When was the management plan approved and what is the plan's objectives?
The FWC approved a management plan for gopher tortoises in September 2007. The species was reclassified as a threatened species in November 2007. The management plan is a blueprint of conservation objectives and actions which include guidelines for landowners whose property contains gopher tortoises, habitat-acquisition plans, and permitting guidelines all designed to ensure the tortoise's habitat needs are met now and in the future. More information about the management plan may be found at MyFWC.com/GopherTortoise.
- Why did FWC revise the gopher tortoise permitting guidelines?
The permitting guidelines are the first step in implementing the Gopher Tortoise management plan (approved September 2007). The guidelines will help Florida meet the plan's objective of "decreasing gopher tortoise mortality on lands proposed for development through a redesigned FWC gopher tortoise permitting system."
- Why are permits needed?
Gopher tortoises and their burrows are often found on undeveloped lots in neighborhoods where the habitat previously supported large populations of gopher tortoises. Before a lot can be developed, any gopher tortoises present must, by law, be moved out of harm's way before land clearing begins. Gopher tortoise relocation requires a permit from the FWC.
- How is the new permitting system proposed in the guidelines different from FWC's previous permitting program for gopher tortoises?
The new permitting guidelines provide incentives for relocating tortoises to managed lands that have long-term conservation objectives. In addition to permitting tortoise relocations, the new system authorizes gopher tortoise agents, who are responsible for capturing, handling and transporting gopher tortoises. Agents must demonstrate experience or training prior to being authorized to handle tortoises. The new system also requires recipient site certification for private landowners who would like to receive displaced tortoises. All permits require a mitigation contribution to the FWC to support activities that help achieve the conservation goals of the management plan, including administration of the new permitting system.
- When will the new permitting guidelines be implemented?
The FWC has implemented new tortoise capture, handling, health and transport guidelines, and emergency take permits. Also, implemented in 2008 is the required use of soft release on all recipient sites - in conformance with the April 2008 guidelines. The FWC is accepting applications for authorized agents and certified recipient sites. The online permitting for the new types of relocation permits (e.g., 10 or Fewer Burrow Permits and Conservation Permits) and the associated mitigation contributions will be implemented on April 22, 2009.
- I am interested in how to become a permitted tortoise recipient site. Has an official application been developed, and if so, can you provide me with a copy?
Recipient site applications are currently available for both long-term protected sites and short-term protected or unprotected sites on our website. We encourage people to submit these applications as soon as possible so that the sites can be permitted before their use is required.
- How do I go about requesting land be evaluated as potential gopher recipient sites?
You must apply for consideration. FWC staff has application forms for recipient site certification on our website. Criteria for recipient sites are outlined on our website and in the approved tortoise permitting guidelines. Soil type, canopy cover, and ground cover are required information that will be considered in determining site suitability. FWC permitting staff will then evaluate information on the application and will coordinate with the applicant to conduct a site visit.
- If the on-site habitat does not meet the minimum size criteria for a "long-term protected area" nor the minimum size criteria for a "short-term protected" recipient site but still has adequate stocking capacity for the resident tortoises (greater than 10 burrows) to be relocated there, does the conservation permit permittee need to obtain a recipient site permit for this on-site relocation recipient area?
No, the permittee will not need to obtain a separate recipient site permit for smaller on-site recipient areas. However, those areas will need to be approved as providing suitable gopher tortoise habitat by the FWC before they can be used.
- When applying for a certified recipient site permit, will an authorized agent be allowed to perform surveys in the course of evaluating the suitability of a potential certified recipient site?
Agents who are authorized to perform gopher tortoise surveys may do so at any time they are performing work that is in support of a current or future gopher tortoise permit application.
- Are there any activities that do not require a permit under the new gopher tortoise guidelines?
The guidelines provide clear direction for activities that do not require a permit such as agricultural, silvicultural, and wildlife management activities that are conducted in accordance with the Gopher Tortoise Enforcement Policy, found in Appendix 1 of the guidelines.
- Can I still apply for an "interim incidental take permit" with mandatory relocation, and is there a cut-off date for this permit type?
Standard relocation and interim incidental take permits will continue to be issued until the conservation permits, temporary exclusion, settlement, and 10 or fewer burrow permits are implemented in spring of 2009.
- We are preparing to clear a lot for development and the adjacent lot has an active gopher tortoise burrow eight feet from our lot boundary. Can we clear our entire lot since the gopher tortoise is on the other lot, or what precautions should we take?
The gopher tortoise permitting guidelines state that burrows must be avoided by 25 feet during development activities. If your gopher tortoise survey indicates that a burrow on someone else's property is closer than 25 feet to where you propose to actually disturb the site (dig bulldoze, pave, etc) you should contact FWC for further directions. If you also own the neighboring site and it is slated for future development, you may want to hire an Authorized Agent to advise you or to assess the potential impacts to gopher tortoise burrows for you.
- Are you going to have some sort of certification process to allow people to dig up and relocate tortoises, and manage recipient sites?
Yes, the authorized agent permit will certify those individuals who meet the qualifications specified in the guidelines. Moving gopher tortoises must be done only by those who have permits to do so. An agent will work for a conservation permit holder or a certified recipient site permit holder to perform any and all actions approved by the permit. The authorization permit is an indication that the agent is qualified to conduct certain actions; however, in order to carry out such actions, there must be a separate permit which has been issued to specify the details of where and when gopher tortoise conservation activities are to be conducted by the agent.
- Where can I get the application for an Authorized Agent permit?
The application form for Authorized Agent permits is available on FWC's website. Use of an authorized agent to conduct activities associated with issued gopher tortoise relocations will not be required by the FWC until the conservation and 10 or fewer burrow permit processes are implemented, in spring 2009, but we encourage individuals to apply as soon as possible so that they will be permitted before the use of authorized agents is required.
- Will people have to demonstrate knowledge of digging burrows, bleeding tortoises, etc?
The qualifications for becoming an authorized agent include completion of an approved training course or having adequate experience (see our website for other qualifications).Approved training courses should include specific hands-on components which would demonstrate that a person is qualified for specified activities.
- Will FWC be teaching classes or contracting out to a private entity?
No, FWC will not provide training nor will we contract with a private entity. However, FWC has established a course curriculum that is available for those individuals or companies that wish to train. At this time, Ashton Biodiversity Research Institute, LPG Environmental and Permitting, and Pandion Systems have been approved under the condition that future FWC evaluation of the training will precede final approval.
- My group is interested in teaching courses in our areas. How would one go about becoming certified to teach proper techniques to others in the field?
The FWC will evaluate all proposed course curriculum for approval. The training proposals that we have received thus far include instructors who are well-experienced gopher tortoise consultants/handlers/biologists. Those are generally the type of instructors that are included in training courses. Instructors may also be authorized agents themselves, especially if they are performing field work in conjunction with their training course.
- I already have a permit application in process; will I be required to use soft release (i.e., enclosures) at the recipient site?
All Standard Relocation Permits and interim I.T. permits issued by the FWC now include specific conditions that require the permittee to relocate all gopher tortoises to on-site or off-site recipient areas using soft release (enclosures), as described in the Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines (April 2008).