“…Everything affecting the gopher tortoise’s habitat affects the tortoise and … eventually affects all other organisms in its ecosystem. Efforts to save the gopher tortoise are really a manifestation of our desire to preserve intact, significant pieces of the biosphere.
…We must preserve…the gopher tortoise and other species in similar predicaments, for if we do not, we lose a part of our humanity, a part of our habitat, and ultimately our world.”
—Dr. George W. Folkerts, Auburn University, Alabama
The first and most important component of gopher tortoise conservation is to conserve and manage remaining upland habitat, including the wetlands that are a part of the complete ecosystem. We also advocate restoration of upland habitat that has been degraded by intensive silviculture, mining, destruction of native ground cover, and fire exclusion. Much research has been conducted with the goal of evaluating the proper management guidelines for upland ecosystems, particularly longleaf pine habitats, including gopher tortoises and other upland species. Thinning of pines, prescribed burning, removal of exotic plants and animals, and replanting of native groundcover are all components of appropriate management of gopher tortoise habitat.
GT Minimum Viable Population Working Group
In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a 12-month finding which made the gopher tortoise a Candidate species for possible listing as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This stimulated range-wide analyses and conservation planning for the species, including a Species Status Assessment. In its subsequent 2022 Finding, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service retained federal protection for the western distinct population segment (DPS) but deemed the eastern DPS did not meet the criteria for listing under the ESA and withdrew candidate status. All state-level protections remain in place.
In support of these assessments, the Gopher Tortoise Council led workshops in 2013 and 2014 aimed at defining minimum viable population size, the number of viable populations needed, and the ideal geographic distribution of these populations.