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Gopher Tortoise Friendly Yard Recognition Program

Gopher Tortoise Friendly Yard Sign

A Gopher Tortoise Friendly Yard sign and certificate will be awarded to property owners that take all possible steps to conserve the gopher tortoise(s) that coexist on their properties.

Given the gopher tortoise's statewide range and the fact that more than half of the land in Florida is privately owned, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Gopher Tortoise Program recognizes the critical role that private property owners play in conserving the gopher tortoise and has developed a Gopher Tortoise Friendly Yard Recognition Program to recognize and honor private landowners in Florida for their contribution.

The purpose of the Gopher Tortoise Friendly Yard Recognition Program is to recognize and encourage private landowners to enhance habitat quality and take steps to protect the gopher tortoise and its burrow. Importantly, protection of the gopher tortoise and its burrow will benefit many other species that use the tortoise’s burrow for shelter and foraging and nesting habitat. A secondary benefit is an increased awareness among the general public of the contribution private landowners make to the conservation of gopher tortoises in Florida. This program will assess the habitat improvements the landowner has made to provide forage, protect the tortoise and its burrow, and control invasive species. The private landowners who enhance habitat and take steps to protect the gopher tortoise and its burrow will be recognized with a sign* and certificate for their property, as well as instructions on how to safely install the sign. These recognition signs can be an effective way to increase the public’s awareness of gopher tortoise conservation efforts.

Any property owner that shares a yard with a gopher tortoise can take steps to make the yard 'gopher tortoise-friendly' and become eligible for recognition. To apply for recognition, you must sign the Acknowledgement Form, provide contact and property information, and complete the Gopher Tortoise Friendly Yard Checklist. Each application will be reviewed upon submission. Please expect follow up correspondence via the email address provided in the application.

Thank you for your participation!

NOTE: Recognition of a 'gopher tortoise friendly yard' does not authorize gopher tortoise relocations onto the property and to conduct relocations or disturb the land in a way that impacts gopher tortoises or their burrows without a permit is a violation of Rule 68A-27.003, Florida Administrative Code. This rule classifies the gopher tortoise as a state-listed threatened species and prohibits the take, molestation, or harassment of tortoises, burrows, and their nests, unless it is authorized by an FWC issued permit.

*There is a limited number of signs available each year.

What makes a 'gopher tortoise friendly' yard?

Plant at least three species of high to very high level forage plants (i.e., high biomass producing plants sought by gopher tortoises). You can refer to FWC's plant guide for additional information on suitable plant forage species. Please note that it is preferable to plant native forage over nonnative forage!

Examples include:

  • Flagging the burrow to raise awareness of its presence and prevent accidental tripping or impact to the burrow.
  • Installing a tortoise road crossing sign to alert drivers.
  • Keeping dogs (and other pets) away from tortoises and their burrows.
  • Practicing safe lawn maintenance (if you cut your grass).
    • Avoid driving heavy equipment, like a riding lawn mower, within 13 feet of burrow entrance and use weed trimmer instead.
    • Set mower blades as high as possible above the ground.
    • Operate machinery during the warmer part of the day from May to October and the cooler part of the day from November to April.
  • Securing your yard to prevent burrowing in unsafe areas.
    • Avoid conflict by identifying areas in the yard that are a safety concern and take preventative measures to keep tortoises from establishing burrows in those locations (e.g., install a barrier, buried at least 8" in the ground, landscape the area with gravel (tortoises do not like to dig in rocky soil); or lay pavers/logs/etc. around the area, such that the tortoise is restricted to digging its burrow entrance under a buffer substrate instead of directly beneath the location of concern.
Employ sustainable practices to help manage invasive plant and wildlife species. Invasives include species that (a) are nonnative to a specified geographic area, (b) were introduced by humans and (c) do or can cause environmental or economic harm or harm to humans. Try to limit the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides!