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TORTOISE ADVISORY COMMITTEE: Issues Under Discussion

 Update August 28, 2009

Board of Directors Meeting 22 August 2009: A review of 2008-2009 Annual Report



Update August 28, 2009

Annual Report - a summary of ABRPI during 2008

Gopher hatchling
Hatchling gopher with egg tooth, located April 11, 2005 at the Institute. Is there a fall breeding season? Over wintering eggs?


Update July 30, 2008

TORTOISE ADVISORY COMMITTEE WILL MEET ON AUGUST 15, 2008.
10:00am - 4:00pm.

The group will be working on various parts of the April Guidelines. Many TAC members have expressed great concern for the changes the G2 team members made after the TAC worked to provide wording and explanations to present in April to the Commission for approval. This will be the first opportunity for the TAC to look at revisions on many topics of concern.

Of these of greatest importance is financing relocation in perpetuity, training and professional credentials needed by individuals conducting relocation and what various levels of certification mean. There have been strong concerns by the private sector and some public agencies about the low levels of training and experience needed by individuals that are managing recipient sites.

Another area of great concern is the lack of effort to have locations for tortoises off the road, small relocations and places to locate sick tortoises. One of the most important is the FWC has not established sufficient minimum standards that can be measured (forage and food) for example to insure that recipient sites meet high standards to start with. Also the need to insure that with the current two tortoises per acre, the landowners will low ball the quality and start with low standards that will not get better until the burn or follow up with actions to make it better for resident tortoises.

There is a lack of real training in tortoise biology and natural history as well as knowledge on backhoe operations, proper ways to evaluate forage by FWC staff. Executive Director Ken Haddad said two years ago that all key people will be trained including enforcement staff.

Who will be the tortoise teaching masters? They should be the best of the best. The best should be teaching some of the best people working with tortoises so they can teach. Let's not create something like the Master Naturalist Program. Good program that was originally designed to teach the best field naturalist to be the best "World Class Naturalist Guides," instead it is a great program to teach people to enjoy nature. We are working with professionals than need to take an oath to protect and defend protected species and do their best to create opportunities for tortoise populations to exist in perpetuity. 



WHERE DO WE STAND ON TORTOISE RULES?

The Tortoise Advisory Committee (formerly the Stakeholder's Group) and an Invited Group of Tortoise Research Scientist have met and sub groups have been making recommendations to the FWC G2 Group on the rules and guidelines to be presented to the FWC Commission in April. Before that there is supposed to be a Public Hearing January 25, 2008, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. (EST), at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Doyle Conner Building, Division of Plant Industry Auditorium, 1911 Southwest 34th Street, Gainesville, Florida 32608-1201. Phone: (352) 372-3505.

Some Key Points For Consideration

1. Donor sites, 100% Survey with no more than 10% error.

2. No Scopes, No Pullers.

3. 7 Days of above 50 F before excavation and relocation or move during severe drought.

4. Recipient Properties: Establish conservation relocation (most preferred 250 acres or more). Conservation sites are those that are in the program to sustain the species in perpetuity. Must have permanent conservation easement or are gov's owned land. Recipient sites on accepted properties must be enclosed with opaque fencing for six months after last tortoise is placed, size variable, 40% canopy and shrub cover, forage diversity (see relocation page for details), 30 cm shallowest allowed ground water table, monitoring and management plan approved. Donor site pays for site development, management in perpetuity, easement. Perhaps a statewide fund to build principal from which interest would pay for easement. Suggest Master Tortoise Manager be in charge of relocation and development of recipient site. 5. Must be some form certification of consultants (Not companies) to handle tortoise work. Master Tortoise Manager, min. 10 yrs experience, can demonstrate competency in all aspects of tortoise management, habitat management and planning, some level of burn training and/or cattle and pasture land management. Tortoise Manager, 5 years of on the job training. Demonstration of proper methods or completion of FWC approved course(s) teaching specific activities including excavation (may have to apprentice with expert to learn the required skills, tortoise natural history and husbandry, burrow surveys, bucket trapping, establishment of recipient sites, monitoring programs, management including, developing budgets and planning. Starting Tortoise Managers must have completed a basic skills course (Introduction to natural history, and each of the basic activities, complete in depth field training or apprentice with Master T. M for at least one year or more plus on the job training.

6. 5 or fewer. This could still be a mess and FWC seems to be bucking at the recommendations. These are. get Counties to visit sites and if there are tortoises, give no land clearing permits until official notification that permit requirements have been met. 1. removal of all tortoises to approved relocation site (fee to offset cost of this, usually on gov's owned property), or, apply to keep tortoise on site if the yard, fence, and management agreement meets approval by local conservation or animal rights group.

7. Humanitarian relocation's are designed to keep tortoises healthy until they die of old age. Not a population for conservation thus not having to meet forever conservation protection. The sites must meet same habitat standards, monitoring and management. These can be on site, parks, and similar dual uses as long as the tortoises are protected.

WHAT YOU SHOULD DO!! Write or attend January 23rd meeting to comment. We suggest that you support all the points above. WATCH this web page for things that we are concerned about. Write FWC Commissioners on key issues.



Update November 20, 2007

IMPORTANT STAKEHOLDER MEETING - NOVEMBER 30 AT 10:00 AM
CITRUS COUNTY LECANTO GOVERNMENT BUILDING
3600 WEST SOVEREIGN PATH, LECANTO, FLORIDA
PLAN TO ATTEND AND PARTICIPATE

Over the past month, the Stakeholders have been busy working in committees developing various parts of the rules and regulations that are key to the success or failure of the Gopher Tortoise management in perpetuity. There are key elements that virtually all the various Stakeholder segments are involved with, or care about, and are making clear what they want to happen. GTCI hosted a two-day meeting of gopher tortoise scientists so they could recommend the best management based on their knowledge and experience.

Click here for a partial list of key elements.


Update October 24, 2007

STAKEHOLDER MEETING - GAINESVILLE, FL LAKE WALBERG CENTER
OCTOBER 23, 2007

Stakeholder Meeting Minutes


Update August 20, 2007

The Stakeholder's meeting is Tuesday, August 21, at the county building in LeCanto. It starts at 10 am.


ABOUT SMALL SITES FOR TORTOISE RELOCATION

GTCI has received quite a number of emails and calls about small properties and residences as possible relocation sites for tortoises. At the moment FWC is still working on the basic points and issues that must be covered in the Management Plan. Various types of relocation are going to be included and as far as I know, the FWC has not pulled back from including Community and privately owned small areas to place tortoises.

The details on how this program will work have not really been discussed although several ideas have been presented as part of the humanitarian relocation effort. Tortoises that are found wandering or perhaps need to be moved from someone’s home site or tortoises saved from some development may be moved to these areas. Perhaps a group like the GTCI’s Tortoise Reserve Program may work as a conduit for tortoises to be placed in small sites or communities or schools.

I join you in your excitement and the chance to help protect tortoises. For now I suggest two things. First, to work toward a great tortoise habitat, go to our web page and copy the Tortoises in My Yard... Document. It will provide you with things you can do to prepare for tortoises. Second, contact FWC and make them aware of the fact that you care and that you and others should be part of a tortoise conservation community.

Ray Ashton


Update May 2, 2007

Gopher Tortoise Stakeholder Meeting Report 27 April 2007


Update April 23, 2007

Gopher Tortoise Stakeholders Group Meeting 27 April 2007
Lecanto Government Center 10 am- 4 pm
Draft Agenda


Update March 15, 2007

The next Stakeholder Meeting will be held in Lecanto at the County complex on March 24, 2007. The meeting begins sharply at 10 pm and ends at 4:00pm.


Update March 8, 2007

Gopher Tortoise Stakeholder Meeting Report 23 February 2007


Update February 15, 2007

Stakeholder's Meeting on Friday, February 23, 2007 will be held at the Humane Society of Vero Beach 10am-4pm

Address: 6230 77th street, Vero Beach, FL

Agenda:

  • Response to Incidental Take reccomendation
  • Review first impressions of the draft gopher tortoise management plan
  • Relocation protocols

Update January 8, 2007

FWC Tortoise Stakeholder Meeting will be held 26 January 2007 10 am - 4 pm at the Florida Farm Bureau Conference Room, 5700 SW 34th Street, Gainesville FL. 32614

The Farm Bureau is immediately next to and easily accessed from I-75.
Take exit 382 (Gainesville Williston Rd). Turn left (east) and go 200 yds to the major intersection and traffic lights at 34th street. Turn right (south) and the Farm Bureau parking lot is on the right hand (west) side about 1/4 mile. Front entry is on the opposite side of the building and all visitors must register at the security desk on entry.

Steering Committee will be automatically pre-registered. Other stakeholders intending to join the meeting are requested to advise me so that they can be precleared. But walk-ins will be ok.

Agenda

  • Preliminary briefing on the draft gopher tortoise management plan (Greg Holder FWC)
  • Discussion and resolution of stakeholder recommendations on future Incidental Take permits for gopher tortoises.

 


Update December 12, 2006

Gopher Tortoise Stakeholder Meeting Report 8 December 2006


Update November 1, 2006

Gopher Tortoise Stakeholder Meeting Report 20 October 2006

Gopher Tortoise Stakeholder Group Steering Committee Report

The group agreed to POSTPONE the meeting scheduled 10 November. The next meeting will be 8 December 2006.


Update October 16, 2006

Our next stakeholder group meeting will held in our usual location, the government center at Lecanto, 10.00 am – 4.00 pm Friday 20 October 2006.

I will prepare agenda items, distribute and also post to the Sharepoint site.

Topics of discussion will include:

  • Further consideration of key tortoise conservation areas and how they should be protected.
  • Response to your recommendations on minimizing IT mortality.
  • Revised proposal for permitting small site relocations.
  • Your response to FWC 'quick fix' adjustments, 3 month evaluation have they worked?

 


Update September 26, 2006

Gopher Tortoise Stakeholders Group September Meeting Report
Next meeting - October 20th in Gainesville

15 September 2006 Stakeholder Steering Committee Discussion. These comments are from the notes and memory of Perran Ross and do not necessarily cover all points, comments and issues that were provided at the meeting or prior to it. PLEASE SEND YOUR COMMENTS TO THE FWC ABOUT INCIDENTAL TAKE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.


Update September 11, 2006

Gopher Tortoise Stakeholders Group Meeting
September 15, 2006 10 am to 4 pm.
Citrus County Government Center, 3600 Sovereign Way, Lecanto FL 34461


Update August 24, 2006

NEWLY PROPOSED DEFINITIONS OF TAKE IN FLORIDA

Members of the Stakeholder Advisory Group to the FWC were asked to prepare a definition of the NEW INCIDENTAL TAKE RULE, after the URTD testing is not mandatory or is to be used to allow Take. Click here for the Gopher Tortoise Incidental Take DRAFT that we have submitted to FWC and we will be discussing it in our next Stakeholder meeting, September 15.

This is the second of what we see as the three primary changes that are needed for a good GOPHER TORTOISE CONSERVATION PLAN. The first is a good all purpose relocation plan that covers Heritage Colonies to allowing people and communities to care for their community tortoises. The final piece is the economics of the Incidental Taken and Relocation Programs and how the distribution of funds locally and to FWC will sustain the conservation effort.

We need your help. NOTHING THUS FAR WOULD HAVE GOTTEN DONE IF IT WAS NOT FOR PUBLIC INPUT. Put it in writing to

Dr. Ken Hadadd, Executive Director
FL Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
620 South Meridian Street
Tallahassee, Fl 21399

If you have suggestions or comments contact Ray Ashton at Tortfarm2@aol.com.


Update August 17, 2006

Gopher Tortoise Stakeholder Group Meeting Report for August 11, 2006

We are working on defining what real Incidental Take is all about. Send your comments to tortfarm2@aol.com.

Next meetings: September 15 and October 20 were confirmed and dates for meetings through February requested. The possibility of having a meeting in the north of the state was requested. Anyone may offer a suitable (free) venue for the Group to consider.


Update July 2006

URTD TESTING TO DETERMINE TAKE OR RELOCATION WILL HALT OFFICIALLY AUGUST 15, 2006

After years of working to have this policy stopped after it became evident that neither the test or the disease was what they were originally described, the testing rule has caused the deaths of thousands of tortoises. This was the first of three WHAMMIES. The second is the amount of funds received from the Incidental Take Permits has been a pittance of what money would be required to replace habitat. The third blow has been the discouragement of federal, state, and local governments and private landowners to allow relocation of displaced tortoises on their properties. As one person put it, people seem to have been brainwashed as though they were in some crazed cult. MORE BATTLES TO TAKE ON - continue reading, click here.

Stakeholder Group Meeting - July, 14 2006 - Lecanto, Stakeholder meeting to discuss Incidental Take & testing for URTD concerns as well as biological goals and tortoise relocation. Location: Citrus County Government Center, 3600 Sovereign Way, Lecanto FL 34461

For information, click on the following:

 


Update June 20, 2006

Gopher Tortoise Stakeholder Group Meeting Report for June 9, 2006
The above link contains the Notes from the Stakeholder meeting on June 9, 2006. There are some very important points that you may wish to comment or vote on. One is to comment to FWC or us to pass on, your comments pertaining to getting the URTD Testing Rule eliminated by the end of the year is important. WE have been recieving calls indicating that developers now believe the state up listing of the tortoise will cost them more money and it would be better to get Take permits than relocate tortoises in the future. The hold up cause by the testing along with this issue is the reasoning behind the change in heart. This is not necessarily so and in fact, if done properly, better mitigation not more expensive mitigation may be planned. We must eliminate testing as soon as possible even as an emergency action on the part of the FWC Director. Please let FWC know your feelings about this. Excecutive Director Ken Hadadd Kenneth.Haddad@myfwc.com


Update May 23, 2006

The Need to Establish A Tortoise Relocation Plan

Gopher Tortoise Stakeholder Group Meeting Report for May 12, 2006

Stakeholder Group Meeting - May 12, 2006 - Lecanto, Stakeholder meeting to discuss draft proposals. Location: Citrus Co. Complex, 3600 W. Sovereign Path, Lecanto FL 34461


Update March 15, 2006

FOR DISCUSSION BY THE STAKEHOLDER GROUP AND INPUT FROM THE PUBLIC.

Please email us your comments before the MARCH 31 STAKEHOLDER MEETING.

Draft Biological Goal for the Gopher Tortoise in Florida

IMPORTANT STAKEHOLDER MEETING ON URTD TESTING AND DRAFT BIOLOGICAL GOAL FOR THE GOPHER TORTOISE, March 31, 2006 at 1:00 pm, Holiday Inn at Newberry Road and Tower Rd. (next to I-75).

COMMENTS ON FWC DRAFT BIOLOGICAL GOALS FOR GOPHER TORTOISES


Update March 2, 2006

FWC ACCEPTS STAKEHOLDER RECOMMENDATIONS ON BURROW DEFINITION - PUBLIC HEARING ON SAME MARCH 24, 2006

FWC has already accepted the Stakeholder recommendation for the rule language - redrafted the rule (with your exact language) on the definition of a burrow - and will hold a public workshop to discuss this redrafted rule on 24 March 6 pm - 9 pm at the Holiday In West, Gainesville (same place as our meeting) where you may individually or as a group add further comment.

Gopher Tortoise Stakeholders Meeting, 20 February 2006
Holiday Inn West, Gainesville FL.


Stakeholders Meeting Draft Meeting Report

Gopher Tortoise Stakeholder Group. (PDF)


Update February 2006

Stakeholder Group Meeting Feb 20, 2006
Steering Committee and members to continue discussion of the proposed ammednments to gopher rules regarding definition of gopher burrows. Althrough the exact agenda has not been agreed to, the following results of the Burrow Rule will be the primary items. Click here to read the notice.

NEW TOPIC OF DISCUSSION FOR STAKEHOLDERS - GIVE US YOUR INPUT
Agriculture & Tortoises: What is the situation? What should be done? This will be discussed at the Feb. 20, 2006 Stakeholders Meeting.


Update January 24, 2006

NEWS
Although a majority of the stakeholders voted for the burrow rule, there was considerable confusion about the rule and whether or not it would not just be a clarification of a rule for the Enforcement of the Take of burrows, but concerns went on in a number of directions. This made it quite obvious that the Stakeholders fall into three groups. Those that have little biological knowledge about tortoises, burrows, etc; the second group are those that do not know the regulations pertaining to gopher tortoise conservation, except those that are specifically pertinent to their interest. There are very few that have both.

GTCI recommended that the Stakeholders be supplied with the current rules and we offered to provide the Gopher Tortoise, A Life History to anyone on the committee that would like one. We also requested that specific details be provided on teach of the topics.

Communications among the stakeholders and Perran Ross, FWC representative had become a chat room with emails selectively, or not going in all directions and on all levels of discussion. It is obvious that if the Stakeholders are going to discuss things with their constituents and provide a reasonable input to FWC that a face to face meeting is required. This is being discussed and may be held mid February. STAY TUNED!!!

PUBLIC MEETING
There will be a public meeting about the Burrow Clarification Rule in February. This is likely to be held in conjunction with the Stakeholder's meeting. Confused yet?

As soon as we get issues from FWC we will send them. When we get a list of the stakeholder reps in final form, we will list it so you can communicate with your representative.

COMMENTS

    Some Comments on the Biological Goals
    I am not convinced that the goals as stated are clearly measurable. There is no way that the stakeholders throughout the state could evaluate whether or not goals were being met. These goals would be fine if you had a species of very limited range and habitats or with very low populations to start with. This is an achedemic exercise and does nothing at the end to create goals that we can see, measure, and evaluate. I understand the needs to model out biological goals but name one species in the world that such goals have actually led to their recovery?

    How many major assurance colonies can the FWC run successfully across the state? What other types of assurance colonies can they create through cooperative programs with counties, private lands and state agencies? How many per year with how many thousands of tortoises established should be the MEASUREABLE GOALS. Use the assurance colony program to establish real numbers and real goals that can be measrured year after year in each region and county in the state.

    Some issues:

    1. We know that gopher tortoises use a wide variety of habitats including those that are manmade. FWC does not have the tools to accurately measure these nor their losses on a regular basis and without considerable ground truthing, it would be impossible to measure loss. Similarly surveys on public lands vary from non existent to very good and are years old in many cases (monitoring is definitely the last thing to be done and the first to be cut).
       
    2. These goals assume that you can do something to curb losses annually or in 5 years over the habitats used by the tortoise (again no estimates are even close as to populations) over the state. This makes determinations vague. FWC cannot curb development throughout the state. The rate of development clearly will not allow the state to be successful in its primary goal.
       
    3. Methodology to turn the tide of extinction are also very vague and are outdated by the time they get instituted. They do not take into account that there is an extremely limited budget of staff and money in FWC to carry this out and the methods as listed are likely not to work due to the lack of funds. Create goals that can be budgeted for, can be supported by the legislature, conservation groups, county government, and the general public and, yes, the Game Commission.
       
    4. This plan does not take into account home rule, local conservation efforts, and does not address important issues like state land tax incentives. Such things could take 5 or more years after the new rules are adapted thus greatly reducing private land involvement.

It is important that the Press and the general public continue to let the FWC and the governor know that the rate of development across this state is causing the loss of tortoises and tortoise habitat that is off scale. We cannot mess around for another year or two to get the new rules in place. SOMEONE IN THE FWC NEEDS TO GET OFF THE GIS AND GET ON THE PHONE AND GET STATS FROM EACH COUNTY ON HABITAT LOSS FOR THE NEXT 5 YEARS. Someone else in the District offices needs to get out there and do some ground-truthing on tortoises lost in the various habitats including agriculture lands being scrubbed of protected species before the land is sold to the developers.

We need to get the URTD testing rule out for public review. It has been reviewed by scientists and staff, let's get it out there and get rid of it. It is already causing the loss of thousands of tortoises FWC does not yet know about because the permits are not in the pipeline (if they ever will be).

Contact: Kenneth.Haddad@myfwc.com
 



RESULTS OF THE VOTING ON THE BURROW ISSUE
We recieved nearly 100 emails and votes on the burrow question. Although most of the emailers did not vote, all but 3 were favorable. Many had questions about various topics related to burrows that would be protected or who would have to comply with the rule.

FWC DECISION
The Stakeholder representatives were informed by the FWC that the Burrow Clarification Issue was being withdrawn. A public hearing will be called and the Commission may have the issue on its March or April agenda.

ISSUE 2 CONSERVATION GOALS FOR THE GOPHER TORTOISE
FWC has withdrawn this issue as well. The reason for this is there is a need for clarification of the goals. (See GTCI comments below) You will have a chance to comment on these in the future.

COMMENTS ABOUT THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE ISSUES
GTCI is deeply concerned about the withdrawal of issues presented to the Stakeholders and the general public. This is and the fact there are no other issues on our plate indicate some lack of coordination and delay in this timely process. For those of us who have been in the trenches for years working on these issues these events cause flashbacks of the old "Game Commission" approach to establishing goals and regulations. This situation is at best is a serious setback. The last effort to have a Stakeholder group to review the issues was a complete failure. After the deliberations, there was little doubt that special interests who were out voted in the meetings had ample opportunity to change the staff report, after the fact. If the Stakeholder group is to function properly, FWC will need to do the following:

  • Stakeholders are truly stakeholders and not hired attorneys or consultants hired to protect the interests of the most conservative of their constituents. They cannot perform their duties because it is highly unlikely that their contracts with their clients say they are there to protect the resource and to provide input on how they (the clients) can reasonably work in that system. They are there only to protect the special interest groups paying their hourly rates to attend the meetings.
     
  • Stakeholders should have time to truly poll their constituents and then at a monthly face-to-face meeting, deliberate and vote on issues and to provide input into the Issue Team and Commissioners.
     
  • The whole process should be established so that ALL of the key Regulations, Guidelines, Goals, and budget be put into place with key issues done by April 1, the beginning of the tortoise season and for consideration for the last Commission meeting in 2006. It will take at least one year after to shift into the new program. However, the Take Rule, requirements for how relocation, mitigation, and training requirements can all be put into place NOW.
     
  • There should be a list of issues for each of the Stakeholder meetings each month. There should be a clear line of action after these decisions to get them before the commission and avoid lobbying outside the sunshine.


IT IS TIME FOR YOU, THE CARING PUBLIC TO CONTACT FWC AND COMMENT ON THE SITUATION. Contact Perran Ross, FWC, Perran.Ross@MyFWC.com.
 



CURRENT ISSUES BEING CONSIDERED BY THE STAKEHOLDERS - DECEMBER 23, 2005. PLEASE RESPOND BY JANUARY 13, 2006.
Please note the following. A number of our members have suggested that we go one step further than just putting out the questions and issues and receiving feedback. They would like for us to provide information and to state a position and why. We will do this but only on this Web Page. Our emails going out to the general public will possibly have some explanation but no comments. If people would like to have more information and our comments they can refer to this web page.

YOUR REPRESENTATIVES
The list of representatives will be established and we will list them all on this web page.

Representatives of the General Concerned Public include:


ABOUT THE STAKEHOLDERS GROUP

The stakeholders group is made up of 2 representatives from conservation groups, scientists, agriculture, development, forestry, consultants and local government. These representatives have a vote on issues related to the new rules for tortoise conservation in Florida. The results of these votes will go to the ISSUE TEAM made up of FWC staff that is writing those new proposed rules. Meetings will occur every few weeks over the next few months.

CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING LINK TO LOG INTO THE FWC STAKEHOLDER WEBSITE:
For the following website, your user name is: gopher.public
your password is: Caddy74
**password is case sensitive**


YOUR INPUT IS IMPORTANT
As issues are presented to the representatives, we will post these on this web page. We will provide the most up to date biological and other information as well. WE THEN NEED TO HAVE YOU EMAIL US WITH YOUR COMMENTS AND VOTE. Please keep the comments specific to the issue. That will help us with understanding what you would like for us to do. No phone calls, please.

We will post the information on this web page and, we will send out an announcement to our GTCI Email list. If you think you are not on that list, email tortfarm2@aol.com. If you want to get information to the conservation group or landowners group, we will post those email addresses very soon.

IF YOU WANT TO CONTACT OTHER REPS
Please email only one of the representatives so we can keep track of numbers. We will list these as soon as the list is confirmed.


ISSUE NO. 1 NEW RULING TO PROTECT GOPHER TORTOISE

UPDATE: RESULTS AND VOTE BY YOUR REPRESENTATIVES ON ISSUE NO. 1. CLARIFCATION OF BURROW RULE

THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE GENERAL PUBLIC STAKE HOLDERS HAVE VOTED YES TO THE SUGGESTED CHANGES AND RECOMMEND IMMEDIATE IMPLIMENTATION BY FWC.

WE ADDED THESE COMMENTS: 

1. The definition of a tortoise burrow is one that demonstrates a  characteristic half circle or half moon shape, even if there is some collapse and degradation of the burrow mouth.  Most tortoise burrows collapsed by machinery do so within one meter of the opening.  It would be relatively easy to shovel down past the collapse and find the burrow with the distinctive shape.  Note that although in sandhills and some other habitats, the tell tail lighter soils of the apron in front of the burrow are a good indication of the burrow being a tortoise burrow, this is not the case in more than 50% of the habitats and other animals make aprons as well (coyotes).

2. Based on the language it would appear that this would require the counting of all tortoise burrows when estimating populations on site, despite their activity level.  Ashton can provide evidence that 47-50% of all burrows contain tortoises.  Also, all burrows should be excavated when tortoises are being relocated, despite condition.  This clearly fits the rule as we read it and these points could be adopted at the same time as an interpretation of the proposed rule. 

3. It is understood that FWC enforcement staff need to be trained in tortoise natural history including how to identify a burrow.  Most staff have little or no knowledge as do few other tortoise staff. 


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BURROWS

Current FWC rule protects an animals den, nest or home. The new rule clarifies that a gopher burrow has the same importance and is truly a 'home' in very sense of the word, and therefore falls under FWC regulatory jurisdiction. This draft was developed by staff and will go before the commissioners at their meetings in February and April.

Clarification: This rule would make it illegal to destroy a tortoise burrow as long as it is identifiable as a gopher tortoise burrow (half pie shape) and not if a tortoise is present as the rule was interpreted by law enforcement in the past. This should allow an enforcement officer to go on a site and see the remains of burrows to give out a citation. 

          GTCI COMMENTS AND CLARIFICATION ON ISSUE NO. 1

If the enforcement person gets to the site before destruction, then it should be no problem if the training is given on burrow identification in all habitats.

However, if destruction of the burrow had taken place, it will require that the office have a shovel and dig down to the burrow to determine if it has the tortoise burrow shape. Remember that in many habitats, the apron may not be present or very clear. Will this be the case?

Will the citation require the landowner to obtain a TAKE permit? Or require them to test the tortoises and apply for a relocation permit if they test negative? What if testing is not required for most relocations? Is there a fine plus paying for TAKE? 

COMMENT ON ANOTHER USE

Can the intent of this rule apply to counting for population estimates? In other words, to estimate a population, all tortoise burrows are counted, no matter their condition. This is justifiable based on research showing that tortoises use even abandoned burrows, thus fitting the new rule perfectly. Simply count all tortoise burrows and divide by two to get the estimated population.

This would also require all tortoise burrows to be excavated during relocation despite condition? Many people are using burrow scopes to determine whether to dig despite the fact there is strong date to show that burrow scopes determine presence but not absence of the tortoise.

Please provide your comments and your vote. Are you in favor of this regulation or not? 

Polling is now closed.

Poll on burrow regulations

PUBLIC COMMENTS RECEIVED ON ISSUE NO. 1

 Approve
May want to not that this does not apply to habitat management or protection issues. This would make it not a against the law to roller chop or dig firelanes and inadvertently break the law. Both these management tools in the long run should help preserve the GT habitat.

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 This looks good, Ray. Inclusion of all tortoise burrows regardless of condition covers it.

 

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Frankly, my comments may be of little use. I am not fluent in the FWC terminology, listing requirements, tortoise decline calculus, or other applicable terminology to participate in the debate.

I have lived five years where adult gopher tortoises are very common, but the population is not at all healthy. I have seen one dead hatchling, no live ones and only a single live juvenile here in Sumter County and from Pasco to Marion and Citrus to Lake.

While there is no doubt that habitat reduction is one of the major threats to gopher tortoises, my experience indicates that fire ants are killing virtually all gopher tortoise young in central Florida and unless controlled, there will never be another real generation of gopher tortoises.

There is one other major threat to gopher tortoises--disease probably brought to Florida intentionally from California and spread unintentionally by gopher tortoise surveys. Surveys clearly lead to tortoise plagues. URTD is spreading and probably will exterminate all four Gopherus species, unless fire ants beat the microbes. Effective disease treatment is certainly difficult, expensive, and impractical.

Keep up your good works. I hope I am wrong about my pessimistic view of the bleak prospects for gopher tortoises. Your work might save them and I hope it does. Habitat reduction, through human development, must be controlled. If it isn't even if URTD and fire ants are solved, gopher tortoises would probably become extinct.

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 I'm in favor of FWC protecting all identifiable gopher burrows. Only protecting "occupied" burrows only works if you can truly tell if one is or not. Many seemingly "unoccupied" burrows just have animals in them which have not come out for a long time. Or maybe it simply has rained since they came out. This rule change is a small step towards according this keystone species the protection it truly deserves.

Then, we should work on eliminating incidental take and upgrading the species to full Threatened status.

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Yes, I am in favor of this new ruling. Most people I talk with have never even heard of a gopher tortoise and they don't know what a gopher tortoise burrow looks like. This ruling will have to include huge fines for destroying a burrow so that word will spread and hopefully the media will report about the gopher tortoise so that the public can become informed. I have a neighbor who destroyed several burrows in his back yard and he says that he did not know that they were tortoise burrows. Many people just don't care about other living creatures, especially if these creatures are digging burrows in their back yard. The fines will have to be very steep to be effective.

 

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Yes, I am in favor.


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On the face of the position, it is logical, protective, easy to administer, but still it is a horrible overstep that could prevent Floridians from any employment except as gopher tortoise hole wardens. Farming, ranching, construction, and changing the ground in any way to provide for other people needs must be allowed and, in some circumstances and locations, encouraged. The requirement that the tortoise burrow be in use would provide some balance.

As it is written, I recommend that it not be passed.

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Of course I am in favor of this rule change. It only makes sense. 

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1) Vote:  My vote is in favor of the change described below.

 
2) Comment: Because tortoise burrows that are determined to be 'inactive' (but not collapsed) can still provide habitat for commensals, potentially including listed species, I would like to suggest that 'the experts' consider enhancing protection of such burrows.

ISSUE NO. 2 MEASURABLE BIOLOGICAL GOALS FOR GOPHER TORTOISES


GTCI COMMENTS ON ISSUE NO. 2
I am not convinced that the goals as stated are clearly measurable. There is no way that the stakeholders throughout the state could evaluate whether or not goals were being met. These goals would be fine if you had a species of very limited range and habitats or with very low populations to start with. This is an academic exercise and does nothing at the end to create goals that we can see, measure, and evaluate. I understand the needs to model out biological goals but name one species in the world that such goals have actually led to their recovery?

How many major assurance colonies can the FWC run successfully across the state? What other types of assurance colonies can they create through cooperative programs with counties, private lands and state agencies? How many per year with how many thousands of tortoises established should be the MEASUREABLE GOALS. Use the assurance colony program to establish real numbers and real goals that can be measured year after year in each region and county in the state.

Some issues:

  1. We know that gopher tortoises use a wide variety of habitats including those that are manmade. FWC does not have the tools to accurately measure these nor their losses on a regular basis and without considerable ground truthing, it would be impossible to measure loss. Similarly surveys on public lands vary from non existent to very good and are years old in many cases (monitoring is definitely the last thing to be done and the first to be cut).
  2. These goals assume that you can do something to curb losses annually or in 5 years over the habitats used by the tortoise (again no estimates are even close as to populations) over the state. This makes determinations vague. FWC cannot curb development throughout the state. The rate of development clearly will not allow the state to be successful in its primary goal.
  3. Methodology to turn the tide of extinction are also very vague and are outdated by the time they get instituted. They do not take into account that there is an extremely limited budget of staff and money in FWC to carry this out and the methods as listed are likely not to work due to the lack of funds. Create goals that can be budgeted for, can be supported by the legislature, conservation groups, county government, and the general public and, yes, the Game Commission.
  4. This plan does not take into account home rule, local conservation efforts, and does not address important issues like state land tax incentives. Such things could take 5 or more years after the new rules are adapted thus greatly reducing private land involvement.
NOTICE
We have been informed that FWC will provide us with some additional information regarding the Conservation Goals. We have suggested that they establish some goals that can be measured such as acreage and tortoises protected in various areas (counties) of the state. This then will tie into developing cooperative programs with counties and the Assurance Colony steps. How many thousands of acres and thousands of tortoises do the mathematical goals translate into? What about reality including budget and staff? They have to be put into the mix if the goals are really achievable under the new rules.
Stay tuned.

Please provide your comments and your vote. Are you in favor of this regulation or not?

This poll is now closed.

Poll on burrow regulation

PAST ISSUES AND RESULTS WILL BE LISTED AS WE GO THROUGH THIS PROCESS.



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