Can We Save the Gopher Tortoise?

Through its support of the Georgia DNR, organizations like the Knobloch Family Foundation are pleased to help fund land protection in Georgia and to be part of a group of funders who represent many aspects of conservation and have united to strengthen the long-term success of the Georgia Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative.

The gopher tortoise may not be very, well, charismatic.

But Georgia’s official state reptile is inspiring a conservation initiative that will benefit the tortoise, many other species, and people like you who depend on healthy longleaf pine forests for clean water, recreation and more.

The Nature Conservancy is working with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and other vital partners with the goal of protecting 100,000 acres of gopher tortoise habitat.

By 2020, the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative also aims to raise $150 million from state, federal and private sources to protect this key habitat, and raise additional funds to manage those lands.

Scientists from The Nature Conservancy, DNR and other partners have concluded that if we can protect 100,000 acres or more of critical gopher tortoise habitat, the species will not need regulatory protection.

Landowners would also benefit from this proactive approach, including timber growers, recreational enthusiasts, farmers, industries, utility companies and military bases.

“Goal No. 1 of this initiative is to protect enough of its habitat and make the case that the gopher tortoise will be secure and will not need to be listed under the Endangered Species Act,” says Steve Friedman, Chief of Real Estate for Georgia DNR. “And The Nature Conservancy is playing a very important role in helping to protect land, raise critical funds and generate excitement around the benefits of this initiative.”

A TRANSFORMATIONAL CHALLENGE

Friedman knows the gopher tortoise and its longleaf pine forest well, having worked in their habitat for much of his career. “They’re pretty mellow, as far as animals go,” he says. “And the way they burrow in the sand, they’re like apartment builders for themselves and hundreds of other species.”

Gopher tortoises are found from southern South Carolina through the southern half of Georgia, into much of Florida and west into the lower reaches of Alabama and Mississippi.

They thrive in the grassy, sandy soils of open longleaf pine forests that are maintained through the periodic application of prescribed fire.

The Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative aims to boost Georgia’s number of protected populations from 40 to 65 to preclude the need to list the gopher tortoise.

INSPIRING AN OPPORTUNITY FOR THE FUTURE

“Given the tortoise’s propensity to dig burrows, another 360 species use those ‘apartments’ and will benefit from the protection and restoration of their habitats,” says Deron Davis, Executive Director of The Nature Conservancy in Georgia. “Among the rare species are indigo snakes, striped newts, Eastern diamond-backed rattlesnakes, Florida pine snakes and gopher frogs.”

Scientists have identified priority areas for protecting and restoring the tortoise habitat in southern Georgia. Georgia DNR, The Nature Conservancy and other key partners are already connecting with landowners willing to sell land or create conservation easements. Aside from proactively safeguarding tortoise habitat, many appreciate the initiative’s multiple benefits of protecting and restoring large forested tracts, such as ensuring clean water and recreational access.

You can help protect forests that keep Georgia healthy for nature and people. Donate today!

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