Gopher Tortoise Frequently Asked Questions

Gopher Tortoise Management Plan and Permitting Guidelines

  • When was the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan approved? What are the objectives of the plan?

    The FWC Gopher Tortoise Management Plan was originally approved in September 2007 and the species was reclassified as Threatened.  In September 2012, the revised Gopher Tortoise Management Plan was approved and takes the place of the original plan.  The objectives of the management plan are to conserve the gopher tortoise by implementing a variety of conservation actions which include permitting, habitat acquisition and management, education, research, monitoring, incentives, law enforcement, and commensal conservation.  Download a copy of the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan.

  • How are the current Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines different from FWC's previous guidelines (prior to year 2008)?

    The current permitting guidelines are different because they require all gopher tortoises to be humanely relocated off of development sites.  They also provide financial incentives for relocated tortoises to be released at long-term protected recipient sites, and most tortoises are now relocated to properties where the gopher tortoise habitat is protected and managed.  Incidental take permits, which allowed the entombment of tortoises, are no longer issued.  

  • Why does FWC periodically revise and update the Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines?

    The permitting guidelines are periodically adapted and revised as new information is learned about gopher tortoises and better ways of protecting tortoises are identified.  Proposed changes are reviewed annually by an FWC standing team and a public stakeholder assistance group.  All changes require approval from the FWC Executive Director and any major changes warrant full review by the FWC Commissioners.  Download a copy of the current Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines.

General permitting

  • Why are permits needed?

    Florida Rule 68A-27 External Website, which was established to conserve or improve the status of state-listed threatened or endangered species to prevent extinction and make federal regulation unnecessary, classifies the gopher tortoise as a state-listed threatened species and prohibits the take, molestation, or harassment of tortoises and their nests unless it is authorized by an FWC issued permit.  To conduct relocations or disturb the land in a way that impacts gopher tortoises or their burrows without a permit is a violation.

  • Are there any activities that do not require a permit under the gopher tortoise guidelines?

    Yes, the Gopher Tortoise Enforcement Policy states that permits are not required to conduct agricultural activities, silvicultural (forestry) activities, or activities to improve native wildlife habitat. Such activities include, but are not limited to, tilling, planting, mowing, harvesting, prescribed burning, mowing, disking, roller-chopping, and tree-cutting. 

  • We are preparing to clear a lot for development and the adjacent lot has an active gopher tortoise burrow that is close to the property boundary. Can we clear our entire lot since the gopher tortoise is on the other lot?  What precautions should we take?

    It depends. The Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines state that an FWC permit is not required if all gopher tortoise burrows are avoided by 25 feet in all directions during development activities.  However, the FWC cannot require or authorize access to relocate a tortoise off of property you do not own.  Nevertheless, if land clearing or other development actions on your property occur within 25 feet of the tortoise burrow on the adjacent property, you may still be held responsible if those actions result in the collapse of the tortoise burrow and/or harm the resident tortoise.  If you are concerned that the burrow might be affected by clearing or developing activities, please contact the regional gopher tortoise conservation biologist for further direction.

  • Does FWC staff relocate tortoises for development projects or personal properties?

    No, FWC staff does not relocate tortoises for private citizens, developers, or governments.  However, FWC issues permits to authorized gopher tortoise agents who specialize in capturing, marking, and relocating gopher tortoises.  You can search for authorized agents in your area by using our online locator map.

  • Can I still apply for an "interim incidental take permit" with mandatory relocation?

    No, this permit option is no longer available.

Recipient site permitting

  • I am interested in my property becoming a gopher tortoise recipient site.  How do I request my land to be evaluated as a potential gopher tortoise recipient site?

    Please first review the criteria for gopher tortoise recipient sites that are outlined on our website. Additional details regarding recipient site criteria can be found in the Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines and a pre-screening checklist is available for download on our website.  If you meet the minimum requirements for either a long-term protected, short-term protected, or unprotected recipient site, please contact the regional gopher tortoise conservation biologist in your region to schedule a site visit.  If you do not meet the requirements but possess a few acres of suitable gopher tortoise habitat, you may be eligible to apply for a waif gopher tortoise recipient site permit.  Please download a copy of our waif gopher tortoise fact sheet for more information and how to apply for a waif gopher tortoise recipient site permit.

  • Are financial incentive programs available for landowners who want to manage their property for gopher tortoises?

    Yes, the FWC has a landowner assistance program that can provide wildlife-related assistance with land-use planning and habitat management.  For information about landowner assistance programs, please download a copy of the current Gopher Tortoise Management Plan.  To view a list of available options or to apply for the program, please visit the landowner assistance program site.

  • Do I have to list an authorized agent when filling out the recipient site application?

    Yes, an authorized gopher tortoise agent must be listed when submitting the recipient site permit application.  An authorized agent will be needed to conduct the tortoise burrow surveys, and mark and release the relocated tortoises at the recipient site.  If you decide to change the authorized agent after the recipient site permit has been issued, you will need to submit an application to amend the recipient site permit to reflect this change.

Authorized gopher tortoise agent permitting

  • What is the process to become an authorized agent (e.g. capture, mark, and relocate tortoises, and receive and release tortoises at recipient sites)?

    The FWC issues Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agent permits to individuals who meet the qualifications specified in the permitting guidelines for activities used to survey or to relocate gopher tortoises.  The qualifications for becoming an authorized agent can be met by either completing a FWC-approved authorized agent training course or providing proof of adequate experience (see the Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines for details).  

  • How do I apply to become an authorized agent?

    Individuals can apply for a permit through the FWC online permit system. If you are unfamiliar with the online permit system, please review the information found in the online permit fact sheet.

  • Does FWC teach authorized agent courses?

    No, FWC staff does not teach training courses.  However, the FWC has established a curriculum that identifies required topics and content for the training courses that are available for review by those individuals or companies that wish to train. At this time, the Wildlands Conservation External Website and Kleinfelder External Website companies have been approved by the FWC to teach courses.

  • My company is interested in teaching authorized agent courses in our area. How would one go about becoming certified to teach gopher tortoise relocation techniques?

    You must first submit a proposed course curriculum to the Gopher Tortoise Program for evaluation.   The training proposal must include a description of the topics to be taught by instructors who are experienced authorized agents in gopher tortoise survey, capture, mark, and release techniques. The FWC will review the proposal and consider approval for the training course(s) based on the information provided.

  • Can I start relocating tortoises after I receive my authorized agent permit?

    No, in order to relocate gopher tortoises you must obtain a relocation permit from the FWC, for each specified property, authorizing the capture and possession of gopher tortoises from or within that property.

Reporting a violation

  • There are tortoise burrows located on a property.  It appears that construction has either already begun or will commence very soon.  What should I do?

    Check the online locator map to see if there is a valid permit for the property.  If you would like further information about how to search for a permit using our online permit system, please download a copy of the online permitting fact sheet.  If there is no permit, please contact FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922.  Explain to the law enforcement call center operator that tortoise burrow(s) are located on property that is scheduled for development or where development has already occurred and no permit can be located.  Please provide the operator with your contact information, the location of the violation, and a brief statement about what you have observed, so that this information can be given to one of our law enforcement officers.  All personal information and statements that you provide are confidential.

FWC Facts:
You can anonymously report violations of fish and wildlife laws to Wildlife Alert. Call 888-404-FWCC, or #FWC or *FWC by cell phone. You could earn a cash reward.

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