safer in the burrow logoThank you to all who attended the 42nd Annual Gopher Tortoise Council Meeting – our first ever virtual meeting – on November 13th. Co-Chair Jeff Goessling welcomed attendees and captained us through the meeting, swiftly addressing the occasional logistical challenges as they emerged! The theme of the meeting was “Safer in the Burrow,” and we are grateful that so many were able to Zoom in and join us from their homes and offices this year. In an action-packed one-day meeting, attendees learned about recent and ongoing research and management activities for tortoises and upland species throughout the tortoise’s range. Thank you to all the presenters who shared their work at this year’s meeting!  

Presentations

There were many great talks at this year’s annual meeting, including those from many student presenters as well as a special session on the Gopher Tortoise Species Status Assessment (SSA) from Mike Marshall and the gopher tortoise SSA core team. Poster sessions looked a little different this year, and small groups of attendees took turns visiting “breakout rooms” for virtual poster sessions and Q&A. 

Silent Auction 

Custom made cornhole boards featuring gopher tortoise, eastern diamondback rattlesnake, and diverse upland plant community. These boards were handmade by local St. Petersburg craftsman Rick Hames. Each board features a hand-painted design created by Eckerd College undergraduate student, Makenna Riley.

Meeting attendees participated in a lively virtual auction, hosted by the one and only Jimmy Stiles. Participants bid on three one-of-a-kind items, including a custom gopher tortoise mosaic by Harriet Smith, custom-made cornhole boards featuring gopher tortoises and other animals and plants, and a weekend getaway package to St. Petersburg. Thanks to a few high-stakes bidding wars, the auction generated $2500 in donations to GTC!

Student Awards

Our two first place student presentation award winners, Robin and Nicole.

Joan Berish Student Presentation Awards

Regular oral presentations

1st place: Robin Lloyd Jr., University of South Alabama

2nd place: Amelia Russell, University of Georgia

Speed talks

1st place: Nicole DeSha, Georgia Southern University

2nd place: Leyna Stemle, University of Miami

3rd place: Houston Chandler, Virginia Tech 

The J. Larry Landers Student Research Award is a competitive grant program for undergraduate and graduate students conducting research on gopher tortoise biology or other relevant aspects of upland habitat conservation and management in the Southeast. This year’s winner was Catherine Shadduck, Florida Gulf Coast University, with her project, gopher tortoise surveys of state parks in Southwest Florida.

Congratulations to all of this year’s GTC student award winners!

Other Awards and Grants

The Auffenberg & Franz Conservation Award is one of GTC’s most prestigious awards. It is presented to individuals and organizations with long-term commitments to furthering conservation of gopher tortoises and their upland ecosystems. We are pleased to announce that this year’s award went to Sharon Hermann. Sharon’s >35-year career has been in service to the conservation of southeastern uplands. Her research on the importance of prescribed fire, gopher tortoises on private lands in Georgia, and long term research at the Wade Tract are significant contributions to our understanding of upland habitat management and conservation of gopher tortoises. She served as GTC Co-chair (2001-2003), as an evaluator of student presentations at annual meetings, and as a member of the GTC nominating committee for many years.

The Distinguished Service Award was presented to Michelina Dziadzio. In addition to being the Florida State Representative, Michelina has also served as Newsletter Editor, and she updated the Gopher Tortoise Council’s educational poster and operations manual.

The Lifetime Service Award was presented to Don Stillwaugh. Don has served as treasurer of the Council for nearly 15 years. In this role, he has worked with Co-Chairs planning annual meetings, maintained our detailed accounting practices, and has brought us into the modern world with on-line registration and membership renewals. Don has worked the registration table at every annual meeting (often missing out on talks) and coordinated payments for the many award programs GTC offers.

The Gopher Tortoise Council’s Donna J. Heinrich Environmental Education Grant honors Donna J. Heinrich, an environmental educator whose life was dedicated to conserving wildlife and their habitats. This year’s winners were:

  • Lee Co. FL Parks and Recreation Conservation: For materials that will help education students and the public on gopher tortoise and upland habitat conservation — $1,620
  • Loggerhead Marinelife Center: For materials, including a burrow camera, that will help educate the public on gopher tortoise habitat, ecology, and conservation — $2,000.

Combined, the projects are estimated to reach over 75,000 students. These projects are a critical part of getting students out of the classroom and into nature. We look forward to the progress reports from both organizations in future newsletters. 

 

 

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