100-mile rule left intact in latest gopher tortoise regulation revisions
Gopher Tortoise Day is April 10. Image via Wes Wolfe.

gopher tortoise
The agency is aware of around 50 landowners in North Florida who have expressed interest in providing recipient sites.

Changes are not coming presently as it pertains to the 100-mile relocation rule for gopher tortoises. The rule wasn’t addressed in revisions to the state’s ever-evolving gopher tortoise regulations because of a combination of conflicting opinions and lack of data.

“There are a number of reasons this 100-mile restriction, or 100-mile rule as you might hear it referred to, were put into the guidelines,” said Jennifer Goff, the Deputy Director for Habitat and Species Conservation at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

“Part of the purpose was to reduce the stress on tortoises when they’re being relocated. You can imagine, that’s a pretty stressful experience to go through for these animals. Also to reduce the impacts of climate variation, particularly from the southern part of the state to the northern part of the state, because it gets a lot colder in the Panhandle than it does in Miami. That can impact tortoises; it can impact their reproduction.”

FWC is working with a team from Virginia Tech and Eckerd College to look closer at gopher tortoise behavior, genetics, reproduction and successes when tortoises are relocated more than 100 miles away. The results from that study are expected by the end of 2023.

There is a waiver system in place presently that allows tortoise relocations outside of 100 miles if capacity is unavailable closer to the site, along with other specific reasons. The agency is aware of around 50 landowners in north Florida that have expressed interest in providing recipient sites.

“At this time, with the increase in interest in recipient sites, with the lack of data, really, on tortoise health and safety beyond 100 miles, and with our existing waiver process, we are not proposing any changes to the 100-mile rule at this time,” Goff said at FWC’s meetings this week in Panama City.

She said the agency is still examining the rule and having conversations about it, but staff doesn’t want to move on an idea until the completion of some ongoing studies.

Those landowners, meanwhile, would like to get involved in creating capacity for relocated South Florida gopher tortoises sooner than later.

“My company provides wildlife management services on over half a million acres in the state of Florida,” said Steve Shea of Shea Wildlife & Environmental Services.

“Many of my clients, who I’m here representing today, are North Florida property owners who requested I come talk about the 100-mile rule. They are willing to participate and ensure that their lands are made available for gopher tortoise conservation, but the 100-mile rule is a big inhibitor and disincentive for them to participate.”

Shea said he was on the FWC’s Gopher Tortoise Technical Assistance Group when the program began, and the 100-mile rule made more sense then, but with more information, demonstrated need and possible new North Florida capacity, the rule shouldn’t remain in effect.

“My property is only 25 miles from the Alabama state line. Therefore, my authorized service area is 40% smaller than recipient sites in other parts of the state,” said Will Lark, a Washington County property owner.

“Commissioners, many of you are business owners — would you enter into a business venture availed to you by a state permit system that handicaps you with a 40% smaller customer base than other permittees? No. It’s a financial deal breaker right from the start. This requirement is a huge disincentive for me and others who are considering making their land available for gopher tortoise conservation in North Florida.”

Wes Wolfe

Wes Wolfe is a reporter who's worked for newspapers across the South, winning press association awards for his work in Georgia and the Carolinas. He lives in Jacksonville and previously covered state politics, environmental issues and courts for the News-Leader in Fernandina Beach. You can reach Wes at [email protected] and @WesWolfeFP. Facebook: facebook.com/wes.wolfe


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