Summary of NCASI comments on draft conservation strategy for the gopher tortoise

In August 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) released for public comment a draft range-wide conservation strategy for the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus). The draft conservation strategy provides a thorough overview of the tortoise’s biology, potential threats, and draft conservation objectives and actions. Nevertheless, NCASI surveys and research, and the experiences of NCASI member companies, suggest that the conservation strategy could be strengthened by recognizing the following points.
 

Gopher tortoises occur in planted pine forests, sometimes at relatively high densities, and those forests can be managed in ways that provide suitable habitat. The size class distributions of gopher tortoise burrows reported in surveys of planted pine forests, although slightly skewed to the right, do not suggest populations dominated by older individuals. Active forest management offers opportunities to enhance habitat structure in planted pine forests for gopher tortoises. Forest herbicides, which are an important management tool for private landowners, pose minimal risk to the gopher tortoise and can, in fact, be used alone or in combination with prescribed fire to enhance gopher tortoise habitat. While the model developed by Hoctor and Beyeler (2010) may be adequate for generating a coarse estimate of the amount of suitable habitat within the range of the species, 29% to 43% of good habitat was not captured by the model which may be problematic if it is used to implement a conservation strategy. Finally, burrow collapse appears to have minimal influence on the gopher tortoise.  

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Reference 
 

Hoctor, T. and S. Beyeler. 2010. Regional gopher tortoise potential habitat model report. Final report to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jacksonville Ecological Services Office Jacksonville, Florida.