The Department of Environmental Protection’s Acquisition and Restoration Council is going to err on the side of staying put for the moment, when it comes to modifying interim gopher tortoise management rules.
The issue at hand was a staff working group recommendation that the interim gopher tortoise management guidelines include a specification that, “Any ground disturbing activity greater than 6 inches deep related to gopher tortoise relocation or release at recipient sites … shall include capture, installing enclosure fencing or other physical barriers.”
The specification would include the requirement that actions under the policy be reviewed by multiple agencies, and notice given of the activity to both the Council and the public. This is supposed to cover state lands of more than 40 acres that can be used as gopher tortoise recipient sites.
Such actions would be reviewable by the Council upon nomination of three or more members. If that didn’t occur within 14 days, the Florida Office of Environmental Services would issue an approval letter.
“Obviously this is in the wheelhouse of what my agency is focused on,” said Thomas Eason, Assistant Executive Director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. “The effort and the thought going into this — I want to specify, this is only for interim time periods, when we don’t have a full management plan in place. So, within that context, I don’t have any grave concerns.”
He did have an issue with the 6-inch specification, as to whether it applied to activities specific only to the gopher tortoises, or any activity happening on, or that might affect, the site.
“This language that we formed and worked on was only specifically for recipient sites,” said Keith Singleton of the Division of State Lands. It was his understanding that fencing goes around 8 inches deep, making it subject to the regulation.
Another Council member agreed with Eason that the language was awkward and unclear as to the intention of inclusion into the plan. The working group is willing to work with the Council to develop better language for guidance here, Singleton said.
The Council voted to defer moving forward on the modification until taking it up again at their next meeting.