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Gopher Tortoise Permitting Frequently Asked Questions

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Gopher Tortoise Management Plan and Permitting Guidelines

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. 

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.  

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. 

General permitting

Florida Rule 68A-27, 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.

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. 

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.

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.

No, this permit option is no longer available.

Recipient site permitting

Before applying, contact the Gopher Tortoise Program Coordinator to schedule a pre-application consultation and site visit to determine if your property is eligible. Properties must be a minimum of 25 acres. Additional details regarding recipient sites and criteria can be found on the recipient site website or in the Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines.

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.

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.

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

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).  

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.

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, Common Ground Ecology, Wildlands Conservation and Kleinfelder  have been approved by the FWC to teach courses.

You must first submit a proposed course curriculum to the Gopher Tortoise Program Coordinator 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.

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

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 or you suspect a violation of permit conditions, 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.