Gopher tortoises occur in upland habitats throughout the coastal plain of the southeastern United States, with most being found in north-central Florida and southern Georgia. Their numbers have declined range-wide, but have been severely reduced at the western and northern part of their range. Gopher tortoise populations along Florida’s southeast coast and the Florida Panhandle also are greatly reduced from their historic numbers.
Gopher tortoises are afforded different levels of legal protection throughout their range. A permit is always required to possess, study, or relocate gopher tortoises. In the 1980s, Florida outlawed the harvest of tortoises, banned the use of gasoline to collect rattlesnakes from gopher tortoise burrows, and banned tortoise races. The legal status of the gopher tortoise in Florida and other states where it occurs is listed below. The eastern range of the population is currently under Federal review.
|Georgia||State listed as a Threatened Species|
|Florida||State listed as a Threatened Species|
|South Carolina||State listed as a Endangered Species|
|Mississippi||Federally listed as a Threatened species|
|Louisiana||Federally listed as a Threatened species|
|Alabama||State listed as a Threatened Species; Populations west of the Tombigbee and Mobile Rivers are federally listed|
The life of a gopher tortoise revolves around a tunnel-like burrow that is excavated using its shovel-like front feet. Burrows can be up to 40 feet (12 meters) in length and 10 feet (3 meters) in depth. Each burrow has a single opening and the width of the burrow is approximately equal to the length of the tortoise..
Gopher tortoises live in extensive subterranean burrows in dry upland habitats. The habitats where gopher tortoises are found include longleaf pine sandhills, xeric oak hammocks, scrub, pine flatwoods, dry prairies, and coastal dunes. Tortoises can also live in man-made environments, such as pastures, old fields, and grassy roadsides.
The gopher tortoise is declining throughout its range. Some researchers have projected that unless something is done to reverse this decline, this species may soon be found only in protected areas. Why is the gopher tortoise in trouble?