Gopher tortoise relocation underway in Orange County

MAITLAND, Fla., July 19, 2016 — The St. Johns River Water Management District is working to relocate an estimated 140 gopher tortoises from their burrows in an Orange County levee to the Apalachicola National Forest.

“Florida’s native plants and animals play an important role in maintaining balance in the surrounding ecosystem,” said St. Johns River Water Management District Executive Director Dr. Ann Shortelle. “While the district’s main goal in purchasing and managing land is to protect water resources, we also manage properties to protect those native species.”

Finding a new home for the threatened species is necessary as their burrows can cause erosion that compromises the structural integrity of the levees. By nature, levees create an ideal home for gopher tortoises who prefer to live in the high, dry ground.

The multi-week process began with site preparation as staff locate and flag burrows. Next, a bucket is placed below each burrow to catch the tortoise upon exiting its home. Once it drops into the bucket, certified contractors transport the reptiles to an approved location. Finally, the cleared burrows are grouted and filled with a concrete mix that closes the passage.

Nearly 10 years ago, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a gopher tortoise management plan to conserve the threatened species. As a result of the plan, permitting guidelines require all gopher tortoises to be humanely relocated off of development sites by certified personnel.

This is the third time the district has participated in a relocation; the first was during the fall of 2014.