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THE GOPHER TORTOISE RELOCATION AND MANAGEMENT INSTITUTE

A joint partnership between the Ashton Biodiversity Research & Preservation Institute and Wildlands Conservation, Inc.

Offering the Highest Quality Training For Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agents

Our goal is to fully meet the highest quality possible the needs of staff involved in all aspects of gopher tortoise relocation and management. Our courses are built on years of experience in working with professionals and community stakeholders. We are proud to have Pat and Ray Ashton, renowned gopher tortoise experts, teachers, and authors developing the courses which lead to certification.

Ashton Biodiversity Research & Preservation Institute, Inc (ABRPI) has a long history of providing training programs on gopher tortoise relocation and management activities. We recently received approval from FWC to offer certification programs that meet the new Gopher Tortoise Management Plan Guidelines, and draft Training Parameters. We have created an expanded curriculum and a new series of training programs for certification to meet the specific needs of these requirements. ABRPI has teamed with Wildlands Conservation, Inc, a non-profit organization with tremendous experience in management of conservation lands and environmental education, to offer programs around the state with numerous actual preserve sites available for field experiences.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Requirements
The gopher tortoise was officially upgraded to Threatened by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). FWC is requiring that any individual working with the relocation and management of the gopher tortoise satisfy certain requirements; they are to be certified as Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agents. The use of Authorized Agents for gopher tortoise permit activities will be required by the Spring of 2009. FWC encourages all affected to please apply as soon as possible so that you are permitted before the use of authorized agents is required. Please read the requirements to become an authorized agent, to determine if you need to take our courses for certification.



Our Mission
Education Is Our Primary Mission. We provide the link between research and policy, and the application of this information to further the conservation of wildlife and wildlands.

As a program of two non-profit conservation organizations (ABRPI & Wildlands), we have a primary goal of providing education, as well as supporting and carrying out research to promote biodiversity and environmental preservation. We are interested in the protection of the gopher tortoise in perpetuity. Our goal is to meet the needs of staff involved in all aspects of gopher tortoise relocation and management. Our courses are built on years of experience in working with professionals and community stakeholders. We can offer workshops on-site for large companies, and will have regular workshops at selected sites in the Panhandle, North Central Florida, Central Florida, Southwest Florida and Southeast Florida. Instructors are well trained in our curriculum; they have actual experience in what they teach. We will continue to make use of the expertise of many different individuals who have real field experience in the various aspects needed to create a well rounded certification program.

Development Of A High Level Of Understanding And Skills
The GOPHER TORTOISE RELOCATION AND MANAGEMENT TRAINING INSTITUTE is totally dedicated to providing high quality training experiences for those seeking certification in all aspects of working with gopher tortoises, their commensals and the management and monitoring of relocation recipient sites. The curriculum being offered was created by Ashton and Ashton, with additions by Wildlands Conservation. The programs of the Gopher Tortoise Relocation and Management Training Institute will remain up-to-date on the issues.


Who We Are
This program has developed from the original programs and workshops of the Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative (GTCI) - a program of ABRPI began by Pat and Ray Ashton in 1998. The Ashton Biodiversity Research and Preservation Institute, Inc., under the leadership of Ray and Pat Ashton and a Board of Directors, has been providing workshops, courses and instructional materials since its inception 10 years ago.

In addition to the Ashton’s recent book, The Natural History and Management of the Gopher Tortoise Gopherus polyphemus (Daudin), they are preparing a complete workbook, new handouts and set of new and revised courses and testing to meet the needs of those involved in gopher tortoise relocation and management under the existing FWC Gopher Tortoise Management Plan (2007) and proposed Guidelines (April 2008). Wildlands Conservation, under the leadership of Dave Sumpter and Julie Morris and a Board of Directors, has joined ABPRI in this mission and will undertake the primary tasks of setting up locations and handling registration for these courses. In addition, Wildlands brings expertise and hands-on experience with on-going natural lands management and they will add to the teaching materials and provide teaching expertise in these important areas.

Links to us:
The Ashton Biodiversity Research and Preservation Institute, Inc: www.ashtonbiodiversity.org
Wildlands Conservation: www.wildlandsconservation.org


Who Should Take Our Courses?
Who needs to be “certified” or who could benefit from the knowledge available in the courses for certification? Anyone taking direct actions or responsibility for the immediate and/or long term health and welfare of gopher tortoises and their habitat will need to be certified. This includes consultants that prepare permits, conduct surveys and relocation activities, and land owners and land managers who are responsible for the long term monitoring and management of recipient sites.

Others who will benefit from courses:
Backhoe operators will need a specific type of course to help them work better with those trained to excavate gopher tortoises for relocation.Community volunteers, humanitarian recipient site managers, educators working to teach about gopher tortoises, and managers of existing natural areas that already have gopher tortoises in residence also will need special courses to help expand their knowledge of the Management Plan and Guidelines. All regulatory personnel, (including FWC) that process environmental permits, answer questions concerning tortoise, or make decisions that require an understanding of tortoise rules and conservation, would benefit from courses.


Certification Testing
The courses are designed to provide an overview of the important features of survey and forage monitoring, excavation, burrow counts, trapping tortoises, habitat evaluation centered around forage, financing and the creation and implementation of monitoring and management plans.

Students will be given both written tests and field evaluations in each certification area (surveying; marking, transport and release; live trapping; mechanical excavation).

Report to FWC

We will provide a report on the success of the applicant in passing the examination and the level at which the applicant passed the field review. There will be three levels, Excellent, Good, and Poor. Those with poor recommendations will receive reasons why and we anticipate that FWC will require that the applicants retake the course in the areas they received a poor grade and they will be re-evaluated. Good reports may have a qualified recommendation for certification by the official instructor observer.

Field Assessments

There will be a Skills Checklist and Demonstrated Behaviors Checklist completed for each applicant by an expert Instructor directly observing and questioning the individual being tested for each of the major areas. Those showing deficiencies will be re-trained on the spot and re-tested or recommended for a more extensive re-training if necessary.
  1. Use of Survey and Transect Methodologies in the field including safety considerations, accuracy, use of equipment, care of data and overall quality of results, use of GPS and transfer of Data to Maps
  2. Use of accepted Capture/Trapping and Excavation Methodologies, Transport and Safe Handling Procedures, Safety Considerations and Use of Equipment, Care of Data and Overall Quality of Results
  3. Use of Monitoring Techniques and equipment for Vegetation Mapping, Herbaceous/Forage Cover, Canopy and Shrub cover and Burrows/Tortoises, including data analysis and interpretation of data relative to needs of recipient site and tortoise management
  4. Backhoe use designed specifically for the safety of the gopher tortoise as well as the excavation staff in the burrow


Courses for Certification
COURSES ARE OFFERED TO HELP MEET THE FWC APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS FOR AUTHORIZED GOPHER TORTOISE AGENT WITH DESIGNATIONS OF THE DIFFERENT AUTHORIZATION AREAS:
  • Gopher Tortoise Surveys
  • Gopher Tortoise Capture and Transport, Marking and Release of Gopher Tortoises
  • Supervision of Gopher Tortoise Burrow Excavations
Level One A: Provides instruction and testing to meet the FWC published requirements of Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agent in Gopher Tortoise Surveys for Donor Site Assessment – It also covers Basic Natural History, Safety Issues and FWC Guidelines and Permitting Requirements – 3 DAYS (1 Day Classroom, 2 Days Field)

Level One B: Provides instruction and testing to meet the FWC published requirements of Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agent in Gopher Tortoise Capture (not Mechanical Excavation) and for Transport, Marking and Release of Gopher Tortoises. A demonstration of mechanical excavation is included but no certification for mechanical certification – 3 DAYS (1 Day Classroom, 2 Days Field)

Limited Time Special Case Level One A & B: For those who have completed previously an Ashton 3-Day Tortoise Program (in 2007/2008), this provides both Level One A and Level One B certification following a 3-Day review and testing program. It includes a review and testing over the FWC published requirements of Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agent in Gopher Tortoise Surveys for Donor Site Assessment – It also covers basic natural history, safety Issues and FWC Guidelines and Permitting Requirements and the FWC published requirements of Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agent in Gopher Tortoise Capture (not Mechanical Excavation) and for Transport, Marking and Release of Gopher Tortoises – 3 DAYS (1 Day Classroom and 2 Days Field)

Level One C: This 2-day certification in actual mechanical excavation will be scheduled on a special basis with instructors and participants doing actual digs. Prerequisites: Level One A and Level One B Certificates OR demonstrated experience to be authorized in those areas per FWC requirements (2 Days Field). These digs will be under Ray Ashton, who will act as the authorized agent.


Additional Courses
ADDITIONAL COURSES OFFERED FOR INFORMATION BUT NOT REQUIRED BY FWC FOR CERTIFICATION AT THIS TIME

Level One Part D – Certification for Identification, Establishment and Financing, Management and Monitoring of Recipient Sites
3 Days: 1 day in classroom and 2 days in field including activities on managed sites
Pre-requisite – Level One A, B, or demonstrated experience to be authorized in those areas per FWC  (and pertinent reading in text and completion of workbook sections prior to attending class (approximately 8 hours).
This course meets specific FWC program guidelines. It provides the necessary understanding of how to identify and assess potential recipient sites including size considerations, soils, ground and surface water, contamination, vegetative/forage analysis of habitat (canopy, shrub and ground cover), exotics and tortoise baseline and stocking densities. Also covers size, materials and configuration of enclosures, and monitoring of forage, fencing and tortoises. Conservation easements (approved FWC easements) and financial considerations are covered, particularly in regard to the financial obligations for long term monitoring and management (in perpetuity). Creation of a Habitat Management and Monitoring Plan and appropriate monitoring techniques are covered including a remediation plan when management goals are not met. Effective techniques for long term storage, analysis and actual utilization of data for the purposes of management are emphasized. This certification provides the complete picture for a site manager who will be able to deal with all aspects of gopher tortoise relocation, monitoring and management activities. (Total time involved 32 hours = 8 hours pre-requisite reading and workbook + 24 hours learning + testing)

Level Two – Advanced Certification for Excavation of Gopher Tortoises for Relocation
Upon completion of Level One Certification (A, B, C, and D) and a minimum of 500 hours (approximately 50 (10 hour) days of actual hands-on excavation under the supervision of an approved Level Two Excavation mentor that results in acceptable tortoise removals, processing, and technically accurate on-site work in burrows with no deaths of tortoises or vertebrate commensals, lost tortoises or injuries due to inappropriate actions or poor skills of the excavator, this Certificate designation can be given by a consensus of an approved instructor and an additional approved, experienced excavator. Failure to meet the standards will require an additional 100 hours (approximately 10 (10 hour) days of actual hands-on excavation under an approved Level Two Excavation mentor with successful outcome as indicated herein before receiving the Level Two Excavation Certification.

Limited Special Case for Level Two Excavation Certification
With successful completion of a 1-day Special Course which involves observation of the applicant successfully demonstrating required skills and techniques on site of an excavation by a trained Level Two Excavation mentor, Level Two Certification can be obtained by expert excavators that have currently completed Levels One A,B, and C successfully and have more than 500 hours of successful excavations (prior to current requirements going into effect) with no loss of tortoises due to improper techniques, no violations of past or current rules regarding the excavation and relocation of gopher tortoises and whose skills can be verified by two or more of the Certified Instructors.

Backhoe Operator Tortoise EXCAVATION Learners Certification
3 Days: 1 Day Classroom and 2 Days in Field.
Pre-requisites: provision of equipment (own or rented) in good operating condition for testing, Minimum of 2 years experience using a backhoe for any kind of actual digging, Valid State Backhoe Operators license, and completion of an OSHA Course on Trench Digging
Provides basics of gopher tortoise natural history and burrow structure. Health and safety of the gopher tortoise and its commensals including snakes. Emphasizes the needs of the biologist excavator actually following the burrow. Emphasizes safety for the tortoises, excavator, and backhoe operator. In addition to introductory classroom instruction, 1 day will be working in the burrow with a master excavator and observing a master backhoe operator at work and 1 day will be devoted to giving each participant a chance to work through 1 complete burrow excavation to the end chamber (using their own or rented equipment) with a master backhoe operator and excavator present giving instruction and evaluating performance.

This Backhoe Operator Tortoise Excavation Learners Certification is only valid for 1 year during which time the holder can only excavate with a master excavator present (fee required to be paid to ABRPI) who will evaluate performance and provide needed instruction. After 50 burrows are excavated completely and successfully with no errors, then this certification and be converted to a full Backhoe Operators Certification.

Backhoe Operator Tortoise Excavation Certification
Following the successful completion of 50 complete burrows under the supervision and evaluation of an ABRPI master excavator, if the evaluations have been positive showing skills development, safety adherence, and proficiency in burrow excavation then the backhoe operator will receive a full Backhoe Operator Certification.

Limited Special Case for Backhoe Operator Tortoise Excavation Certification for Next Two Year
Backhoe Operators that are currently working and have no less than 1000 hours during the last three years in successful digging of gopher tortoise burrows for relocation can qualify to have a master excavator evaluate their digging skills on 5 successful burrow excavations, and verbally test them on basic knowledge of the natural history of the tortoise and its commensals and its burrow, and on tortoise safety considerations.

Gopher Tortoise Regulation Special Certification: for County, City, Water Management District, Law Enforcement, Permitting, DOF, and other Agency Personnel
4-DAYS: 2 Days in Classroom and 2 Days in Field
Provides basic information of gopher tortoise natural history and habitat management. Provides insights into permitting issues and community programs. Provides information and practice in identification of gopher tortoise burrows and activity. Practice and information on identifying the accuracy of tortoise burrow counts and density estimations. Recognition of the accuracy of habitat evaluations (vegetative survey and cover) and soils and ground water table.

Botanical Identification and Assessing Gopher Tortoise Forage Certification
2-DAYS: 1 Day in Classroom and 1 Day in Field
For those with minimal botanical experience or those needing a refresher course. Provides basic information on botanical techniques pertinent to field collection of plants and identification tasks relating to identification of vegetative habitats and forage species. Gives practice in identification of forage species and reviews books and other resources available to use in identification. Emphasis is on actual practice in identification and includes written and field testing.

Project Management and Proposals for Gopher Tortoise Relocation certification
2-DAYS: 1.5 Day in Classroom and .5 Day in field
This is a “how to” course for those inexperienced in project management and proposal (costing) development for relocation projects. Emphasis is on creation of projects from the beginning that meet or exceed the FWC permitting requirements and also do the best job of protecting the gopher tortoise in perpetuity, including multi-species conservation considerations. Making financing work for the company and landowners as well as finding and working with recipient sites will be emphasized.

Data Management, Analysis, Reporting and Responsive Management Planning Certification
2-DAYS: 2 days in classroom with on-line follow-up
This is a detailed and practical “how to” class in basic use of data storage and management programs including how to actually analyze the data and how to prepare useful reports for managers including the actual responsive management strategies suggested by the data analysis. Participants can bring own data to analyze and discuss. Follow-up on line will require participants to submit a finished analysis and report and the suggested responsive management using their own data or data we provide. A laptop and specific computer programs will be required for this course.

COURSE DATES


TO REGISTER FOR GTRMTI COURSES GO TO

The Gopher Tortoise Relocation and Management Training Institute
A joint partnership between the Ashton Biodiversity Research & Preservation Institute and Wildlands Conservation, Inc.

QUESTIONS ON REGISTRATION, DATES, AND INFORMATION ABOUT THE LOCATIONS CONTACT
Julie Morris at Jmorris@wildlandsconservation.org or go to: www.gophertortoisetraining.org

QUESTIONS ABOUT THE COURSE CONTENT, TESTING, AND RULES RELATED TO CERTIFICATION CONTACT
Ray Ashton at Tortfarm2@aol.com


Ashton Biodiversity Research & Preservation Institute, Inc. is a
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