Click to read more about the critical gopher tortoise conservation being done across the species' range in our 2022 state report summaries.


Head-start juvenile tortoise reared by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries staff while habitat restoration efforts are underway on private land where the tortoise was found.


The gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is an inhabitant of coastal plain counties of Alabama. Populations in Alabama fall under two spheres of protection, federal and state. Within the western portion of its range in Mobile, Washington, and Choctaw counties the turtle has been listed as a federally threatened species since 1987. In the remainder of its eastern range in Alabama the turtle is protected by state regulation. 

Habitat management continues on Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) owned public lands in the tortoise range. Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (DWFF) owns 6 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) or Special Opportunity Areas (SOAs) (Uchee, Fred T. Stimpson and Upper Place SOAs and Barbour, Geneva and Perdido WMAs) within the gopher tortoise range. Those public lands within the tortoise range continue management activities that are beneficial to the tortoise and many other species. Management activities include prescribed burning with an emphasis on summer burning, when applicable, invasive plant control, longleaf pine restoration, predator management and mulching / spraying activities to control hardwood species. Improving and creating quality wildlife habitat on public lands for a diversity of species continues to be one of the main objectives. The 2022 Gopher Tortoise Candidate Conservation Agreement Report will detail acres managed and maintained.

Interest in the gopher tortoise and the responsibilities of landowners have greatly increased due to targeted outreach efforts. Subsequently more inquiries into the various offices of the DWFF for information and management guidelines have occurred. Additionally, participation by Division personnel in regional gopher tortoise related conservation initiatives (Gopher Tortoise Mitigation Banking Team, Gopher Tortoise Candidate Conservation Agreement Team, Gopher Tortoise Council, and Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan, etc.) has evolved and demands increasing attention. Staff continues to meet with private landowners, utilities, and developers to provide technical assistance relating to gopher tortoise issues or habitat management to increase gopher tortoise population potential. A variety of outreach opportunities include speaking engagements and presentations at landowner meetings, NGOs, or Agencies. Social media efforts continue to provide gopher tortoise conservation information throughout the year. Gopher Tortoise Day was celebrated by different groups throughout the state with some groups holding actual events and others recognizing Gopher Tortoise Day through social media outlets.  

Twenty-three tortoises were relocated this year due to development or utility issues. Tortoises were soft released into an enclosure on protected state lands and will reside in the enclosure for 6-12 months, after which it will be removed by prescribed fire allowing the tortoise to freely disperse.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently determined the eastern distinct population segment of the gopher tortoise, which includes the Florida population, does not warrant federal listing. Nonetheless, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) continues to implement conservation actions listed in the Gopher Tortoise Management Plan (2007, revised in 2012), and the gopher tortoise is still protected as a state-listed species in Florida.

Executive orders 21-27 and 22-06 were enacted by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) of the State of Florida, acting under the authority of Article IV, Section 9, of the Florida Constitution, and acting through its Executive Director under Paragraph 22 of the Delegations of Authority, 68-1.009, F .A.C. Due to a shortage of recipient site reservations for accepting relocated gopher tortoises, these orders authorized deviations from the Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines through July 14, 2022. 

Senate Bill 494, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, passed both the House and Senate, took effect July 2022. The bill revises laws administered by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and other law enforcement entities. The bill amends the Florida Forever Act to require each lead land managing agency, in consultation with FWC, to consider the feasibility of using a portion of state lands as a gopher tortoise recipient site for all state lands under the management of the agency that are greater than 40 contiguous acres. The bill directs FWC to improve the public and private gopher tortoise recipient site application review process by December 31, 2022. It directs FWC to encourage the establishment of new recipient sites and update its permitting systems by October 31, 2023. The bill requires FWC to submit a report to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives regarding gopher tortoise recipient sites by February 1, 2023. 

The FWC Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines were revised and approved by Commissioners on November 30th, 2022. They are currently undergoing the 21-day review process before being incorporated into rule 68-27.003 F.A.C. by reference. The goal of the update is to better protect gopher tortoises by incentivizing relocations to protected recipient sites, clearly defining roles and responsibilities in the relocation process, and clarifying other provisions in the guidelines.

To promote actionable science, FWC is funding scientific research on an annual basis using gopher tortoise mitigation contributions. To learn more, visit FWC's Call for Research and Outreach Proposals webpage and check out the recorded Gopher Tortoise Research Symposiums on The Florida Channel. To be considered for funding, submit a proposal by April 15, 2023.

Efforts continue to evaluate gopher tortoise populations on conservation lands using the Line Transect Distance Sampling (LTDS) method and assist local governments with habitat management activities.

Make your yard Gopher Tortoise Friendly! Since April 2020, ~350 friendly yards have been recognized by the FWC.

Floridians can now sign up for the gopher tortoise license plate. Proceeds for the plate will fund gopher tortoise research, habitat management, and protection through Wildlands Conservation.


Georgia’s Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative has protected 62 minimum viable populations, just three shy of the state’s goal. Efforts will continue in hopes to exceed this goal in 2023. In 2022, several newly protected properties expanded protection of tortoises in Georgia.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ (GA DNR) Gopher Tortoise Survey Crew continued conducting Line Transect Distance Sampling, completing one new survey and two re-surveys. The crew surveyed over 6,500 acres of high-priority gopher tortoise habitat. GA DNR’s Gopher Tortoise Fire Crew led or assisted Interagency Burn Team partners on 40 burn days and 7,105 acres with 5,064 of those acres in high-priority gopher tortoise habitat. 

In October, 20 more headstarted gopher tortoises from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery were released by FWS staff, GA DNR staff, and volunteers at Lanahassee WMA, where tortoise habitat is rapidly improving through prescribed fire, timber thinning, and planting longleaf.

A juvenile tortoise head started at Warm Springs released into its new burrow at Lanahassee WMA.

Two adult female tortoises were hit by cars and taken to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Both made a full recovery and were relocated from their respective busy road rights-of-way to a soft-release pens at Silver Lake WMA and Alligator Creek WMA. One of the tortoises was gravid and her hatchlings are now being head-started at the University of Georgia Marine Extension.

A relocated gopher tortoise sporting a recently healed carapace at the mouth of its new burrow at Silver Lake WMA.

The fall has brought an increased number of planned utility-scale solar power developments in good tortoise habitat. GA DNR continues to work with involved parties to avoid or minimize the largest impacts. There are talks of implementing fencing designs that allow tortoise movement through the arrays and planting native grasses and forbs within the arrays with hopes of releasing tortoises back into the installations following the establishment of native forage. 

In a disease study of the Red Hills region, Tall Timbers has sampled 110 tortoises across 5 properties (61 in Florida and 49 in Georgia). In addition to blood samples, morphometric data, PIT tags, visual health assessments, fecal samples, and oral and cloacal swabs accompany the data. This research will improve our understanding of pathogen prevalence and disease outbreaks and help inform decisions about future gopher tortoise translocations in the region.

The Jones Center at Ichauway completed the fourth round of site-wide tortoise surveys and we are investigating how land management affects population growth. Two graduate students are working on tortoises at Ichauway and Greenwood Plantation. McKayla Susen, a UGA graduate student co-sponsored by Dr. Steven Castleberry, is completing her work on the relationship between habitat structure and the gopher tortoise and Garrett Lawson, from Virginia Tech co-sponsored by Dr. Elizabeth Hunter, is working on nest site selection in tortoises.


Louisiana’s gopher tortoise range encompasses Tangipahoa, St. Tammany, and Washington parishes. Currently there are no known minimum viable populations of gopher tortoises in Louisiana. Five support populations (< 50 adults) occur among Sandy Hollow WMA, Lee Memorial Forest, industrial timberland, and pipeline right-of-ways. Reproduction and recruitment has been documented within four of these support populations.

Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) staff discovered a nest and hatchling gopher tortoise within a food plot on degraded habitat on private land in December 2021. The juvenile tortoise is being head-started while habitat restoration efforts are underway, with the intent to release the tortoise at its original location once the surrounding habitat is suitable. 

Habitat restoration efforts continue on Sandy Hollow WMA and private lands to increase the amount of quality habitat available for gopher tortoises. LDWF staff targets approximately 2,000 acres of longleaf pine for prescribed burning activities on Sandy Hollow WMA each year. Through USFWS Section 6 grant funding, a total of 795 acres of upland pine forest, with 350 acres consisting of longleaf pine, was burned in the spring on industrial and non-industrial private lands in St. Tammany and Washington parishes. Gopher tortoises occur on these private properties, with one property housing Louisiana’s largest support population.

LDWF staff released a male gopher tortoise in an enclosure on Sandy Hollow WMA.

Through a partnership effort among Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama, the states were awarded a 2022 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation - America the Beautiful Challenge Grant to implement landscape-level habitat restoration efforts and enhance fire-dependent plant communities in the East Gulf Coastal Plain across the three states. In eastern Louisiana, this grant funding will improve over 20,000 acres of habitat on public and private lands (industrial and non-industrial) through prescribed burning, mechanical mid-story control, herbicide treatment, longleaf pine planting, and exotic vegetation control, as well as restoration of a severely degraded seepage bog.

LDWF staff coordinated with the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine for a health assessment of a male tortoise found next to Highway 190 in Hammond, LA. This tortoise was released during October in an enclosure on Sandy Hollow WMA.


Challenges that limited the opportunities for prescribed burning this year were unfavorable weather conditions, smoke management issues, and the fact that US Forest Service (USFS) now requires secondary review of all burn plans. Despite the challenges, the following management activities were accomplished (all values are in acres):


Prescribed Fire

Mechanical Midstory Removal

Thinned/ Clearcut

Cogongrass Control
















Comprehensive burrow surveys were conducted on 2,379 acres of state, federal, and private land. 

The gopher tortoise head-start program at Camp Shelby continues: 142 eggs from 29 nests were incubated, and 83 hatched (58.5%). One hundred and twenty-one 2, 2.5, or 5-year-old tortoises were released on restored habitat at Camp Shelby. The head-start building currently contains 180 individuals. Comprehensive burrow surveys were conducted on 2,379 acres of state, federal, and private land.

The Natchitoches National Fish Hatchery (NNFH), in collaboration with the USFS, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) initiated a tortoise head-start program within the DeSoto National Forest (DNF). Sixty-one eggs were collected on the DNF and transported to the NNFH in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Forty-seven of the 61 eggs hatched (~77%). This hatch rate is higher than reported values for wild incubated nests at DNF, so artificially incubated eggs may have improved hatching prospects. The hatching percentage at NNFH is similar to rates observed at other head-start programs, suggesting that eggs can be transported long distances (~300 miles) without harming embryos.

Staff from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and MS Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks met with the US Forest Service to visit sites that were selected for gopher tortoise conservation on the DeSoto National Forest.

Seventeen waifs/injured gopher tortoises materialized. Nine were temporarily housed at the Central MS Turtle Rescue (CMTR) facility, with most being attacked by a dog or hit by a car.  

Personnel from MDWFP’s Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, CMTR, TNC, and the USFWS provided 321 programs about tortoises to school groups, adults, and children at workshops and special events in 2022. 

The USFS, USFWS, and the MDWFP have identified priority tortoise conservation sites on the DNF to focus on management likeliest to increase tortoise recruitment.

Local allelic impoverishment might be a factor in tortoise decline in MS. To counter this possibility, the USFS has trapped and relocated 10 previously isolated tortoises to Mars Hill, which is one of their priority conservation sites.

South Carolina

Waif and headstart tortoises continue to be released at the Aiken Gopher Tortoise Heritage Preserve (AGTHP) to increase this population to a Minimum Viable Population (MVP). This property encompasses ~1600 acres and was purchased with ~8 tortoises. Waifs have been added since 2007, the majority of which have come from a Memorandum of Agreement with Florida FWC. Currently we estimate between 180-200 adults on the property.

  • Since 2018 the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Lab - through funding from the Longleaf Alliance - collected hatchlings, raised, and released 184 headstart gopher tortoises
  • We found 10 clutches consisting of 59 eggs in 2022
  • Since 2018, 103 waif tortoises have been added. 72 of these were from our agreement with Florida FWC, and 31 were from various other locations within and outside of the gopher tortoise’s native range.
  • A manuscript on the post-release health of waifs at the AGTHP showed the only pathogens detected were Mycoplasma but prevalence was within ranges reported for natural populations (McKee et al. 2022, see the Recent Research section of this newsletter)
Hatchling gopher tortoises that will be part of South Carolina's headstarting efforts.

Restoration of ~180 acres of uplands continues at the Tillman Sand Ridge Heritage Preserve. We recently sprayed midstory hardwoods with herbicide and have counted at least 30 new burrows in this restored habitat. This population is our second largest but has the highest density of tortoises in SC. Being just one of two MVPs, the objectives are to provide more suitable habitat and an opportunity for tortoises to disperse on the property.

The Open Space Institute, The Nature Conservancy, and the Knobloch Foundation purchased ~13000 acres in Hampton and Jasper counties which included the largest (MVP) and third largest (Primary Support Population; PSP) gopher tortoise populations in South Carolina. With these purchases, the four largest gopher tortoise populations in SC are on protected lands (2 MVP and 2 PSP).

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources hosted the bi-Annual Candidate Conservation Agreement meeting for gopher tortoises at the Webb Wildlife Center in late August 2022.

We continue restoration, monitoring and headstarting for gopher frogs in SC:

  • Webb Wildlife Center – Continue to restore 3 historic gopher frog wetlands with herbicide treatments to treat resprouting hardwoods and late growing season fire.
  • Crackerneck WMA – Continue to restore two historic gopher frog wetlands with herbicide treatment, removal of midstory hardwoods, in and around wetlands, and prescribed burns.

University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Lab hosted a NC/SC gopher frog workshop where land managers, foresters, scientists, biologists, and conservationists came together to discuss topics that included management, restoration, research and head starting.

Pen installation at the Aiken Gopher Tortoise Heritage Preserve (AGTHP).

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