Fayette County Extension


 Enjoy Linda May’s article, GA Department of Natural Resources      April 05, 2017

Join the Gopher Tortoise Council in celebrating April 10 as Gopher Tortoise Day!

Georgia’s state reptile has the nation’s military on its side.

A new Defense Department initiative including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia DNR and others will help conserve gopher tortoises and preserve military training options in the Southeast.

Under the Department of Defense Conservation and Crediting Strategy signed last month, the military can earn credits for land acquisition, habitat restoration and other approved efforts to conserve gophers and their habitats on protected areas.

Those credits can be used to offset impacts from military training if the tortoise is federally listed in an area where the impacts occur. (The gopher is a candidate for Endangered Species Act listing in the eastern part of its range, which includes Georgia.)

The strategy is already having an impact. DNR acquired Alapaha River Wildlife Management Area last year with support from the U.S. Army and other partners. The 6,900-acre WMA east of Tifton has nearly 2,000 gopher tortoises – the highest number and greatest density on any state-owned tract.

Alapaha River WMA also has plenty of tortoise habitat and other at-risk species, such as gopher frogs, striped newts, eastern indigo snakes and pond spice.

DNR Wildlife Resources Division Director Rusty Garrison said during the signing event at ABAC that the strategy will help DNR meet its gopher conservation goals. A critical one is protecting 65 viable populations through acquisition or easements.

Alapaha River WMA is the first. All could help keep the tortoise off the federal list.