Forest owners in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and eastern Alabama breathed a sigh of relief on Tuesday, October 11, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) ruled that the eastern population segment of the gopher tortoise did not warrant listing as Threatened or Endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Had a listing occurred, forest owners would have likely been subject to regulations that impact forest management and harvest. The decision not to list was no coincidence. It was due in large part to collaborations that clarified the number and distribution of tortoises in the eastern population and that took a leadership role in implementing conservation practices to benefit tortoises and their habitats. Many entities, including the FWS, deserve credit for this positive outcome. Forest owners were essential members of many of these collaborations.
The gopher tortoise’s range overlaps with some of the most productive forest lands in the U.S. Certain types of active forest management are not only compatible with gopher tortoise management – they are necessary to help maintain the reptile’s desired habitat conditions. …We think the decision not to list the eastern population of gopher tortoises is a win. Others disagree. There is no question that continued diligence and conservation is needed to address the many challenges that tortoise’s face.