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The primary goal of burrow excavation is to successfully dig all tortoise burrows to the end chamber which is usually at the interface with the ground water table.

This goal should be achieved by digging in a manner as to insure that the resident tortoises and as many commensal organisms or are not harmed. At the same time, proper safety standards should be followed to insure the health and well being of the staff.

A third goal is to insure that all wildlife are handled and transported to relocation sites in a safe and humane manner and that data on the species as required by the recipient site and permits will be done properly and recorded correctly.


Persons being recommended for certification will be required to provide or, during discussions that they can demonstrate that they have a grasp of the following:

  1. Knowledge of and using the most recently approved FWC guidelines for backhoe extraction.
  2. The minimal OSHA safety rules pertaining to ditch digging and working in ditches.
  3. Questions about certain methods used to insure one can maintain the direction of the burrow.
  4. What to do if a burrow is lost,
  5. Extraction of the tortoise and commensals
  6. How you are approaching the end chamber and issues locating it.
  7. How to plan and cost excavations
  8. Evaluation of the back hoe operator and how to work with this person.
  9. Handling, marking and data collection from tortoises and their safe holding and transport to recipient sites will also be included.
  10. Commensal capture and management for safe keeping and transport (according to FWC guidelines).
  11. Contracts with recipient site owners will be reviewed.
  12. Each applicant will provide a protocol on how excavation projects are planned, budgeted, and step by step methods so everyone knows what the rules are.
  13. Does the agreement with the client and/or backhoe operator allow for immediate dismissal if the operator jeopardizes staff or tortoises due to lack of skill, poorly maintained equipment or the wrong attitude?
  14. Describe the habitat and burrows of subadult and juvenile burrows and how to extract them.

Field Testing

Required Number of Burrows

To qualify as an Authorized Agent you must demonstrate that you have successfully managed the excavation of 50 burrows and extracting 20 tortoises  (Pg. 13 Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines).  If you have taken Part C of our certification training program, the number of burrows that you must manage the excavation of under Ashton review is 30 burrows and extracting 12 tortoises. 

Before the evaluation, the evaluator will verbally go over the FWC permit and to discuss how the individual being evaluated will carry out the excavation. Once the questions have been answered correctly then the excavation will commence.

This activity will include:

  1. Observing an ample number of burrow diggings that would demonstrate the applicants ability not only to handle routine burrows but those that are complicated due to shape, dry conditions, roots, rocks or roots that may cause collapse and the need to re-find the burrow. This will take at least 30 burrows depending on the difficulty of the burrows and if they were dug properly.
  2. The safety factors for staff and tortoises will be evaluated at all times.
  3. Does the applicant have the proper equipment to do the job?
  4. Is staff well trained and is there a good working environment?
  5. How staff was directed by the applicant including the backhoe operator?
  6. Data collection and marking of tortoises, packing and transport to the recipient site
  7. Commensal handling and release planned and proper equipment available.
  8. Does the staff search for unmarked burrows including juveniles and subadults?
  9. Do they follow the protocol as described and does it use best management practices?
  10. Extracting juvenile from burrows, by hand or shovel.
  11. Do they search for missed and unmarked burrows?
  12. Do they take all tortoise burrows or properly determine which are not taken and how do they manage those.
  13. Are data and paper trail for tortoises done correctly both for the recipient site and report required for FWC? What about subadult tortoises?
  14. Are the arrangements for proper delivery to the recipient site followed?


We will provide an evaluation to the applicant and those that pass will receive a letter stating such which should be submitted to FWC by the applicant. We will also provide a copy of that letter. We will not provide information to FWC unless it is requested.


Ray Ashton is a Certified Agent and has been excavating burrows both as a consultant but as a researcher for more than twenty years. He has excavated thousands of burrows over that time. He has studied the tortoise burrow, tortoise burrow behavior and studied the best methods of digging burrows in all the habitats used by gopher tortoises throughout its range. This information can be found and should be studied before having a field exam in burrow excavation or survey methods. The book is Ashton and Ashton 2008. The Natural History and Management of the Gopher Tortoise Gopherus polyphemus (Daudin). 175 pgs Krieger Press. Malabar FL. This book can be ordered on line through the publisher or most book stores. Be sure to review chapters 2, 4, and 8.


Ashton rarely schedules excavations as a consultant but, if agreed to by the landowner, will do evaluations for recommendations for burrow certification. He is available to work on excavations that are being permitted by consulting firms. He can work in two ways. First, if there is not a Certified Agent in excavations in your company, he can act as the project manager. He would be responsible as the CA and apply for the permit for the relocation. If you have an excavation permitted, he can come to the site and conduct the exam as described above for one staff member at a time. The project manager of record will have to be on site as well unless it is approved by FWC for Ashton to take over that responsibility during the testing time. There is some hope to get some excavations of Incidental Take sites and tortoises in various parts of the state. However, we need some financial support to cover relocation costs to do this. Efforts are underway in this area. If we are successful, we will put it on our website and notify those people who wish to be put on a "to notify list".

If you have a possible excavation contract but no Certified Agent to submit the Application

Email and discussed having Ashton as the project manager on the project. Note, he will only accept jobs as a PM if in fact he is managing the dig. He will of course be conducting site reviews of your staff (see above for details).

If you have an excavation scheduled and want Ashton to conduct a review of one or more staff.

Please let us know when you are filing the FWC application. Then a set of tentative dates can be indicated. Then when the permit has been approved, the actual date will be set.


Ray Ashton at


Please provide a certificate of insurance with Ashton Biodiversity Research & Preservation Institute listed as insured under you liability coverage.

When confirming a date for an excavation, a letter of authorization and a check for 50% of the first day fee must be received. The remainder of the fee and all expenses must be paid before the evaluation is provided. Fees do not guarantee that a person will pass the examination. It is wise to have enough burrows so that Ashton can do some instruction if necessary before the actual evaluation is made.

With the authorization information on the location of the job, arrangements for overnight accommodations if the dig is more than 100miles from Archer, Florida, and other details including plans as listed above on procedures, and a copy of the permit must arrive 5 days before the excavation is to commence. ABRPI EIN No. 3163952

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