The Gopher Tortoise is a protected species under the jurisdiction of the Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission, (FWC). It is illegal to "take", harm, or harass a gopher tortoise, pursuant to Rule 68A-27.005, of the Florida Administrative Code. The destruction of the gopher tortoise
burrow constitutes "taking" under the law, except as preauthorized by specific permit. At present, landowners wishing to develop their property have several options available when the property is shared by a gopher tortoise burrow.
P.A.W.S. is a non-profit, all volunteer organization dedicated to the preservation of all indigenous Florida wildlife and their habitat. While there are qualified conservation consulting firms that make a business out of gopher tortoise relocation, our primary concern is for the welfare of the animal. Generally, our services are available at a minimal actual cost basis. It is advisable to contact us during the municipal permitting process, before clearing begins, so that we can assess the proposed site, identify any development obstacles and offer mitigation scenarios prior to burrow damage. We utilize the latest technology, including GPS, and infrared "downhole" video burrow monitoring.
Our Option-1By far, the least expensive and most favorable option for the landowner, and the least stressful for the tortoise, is to develop the property so as to avoid gopher tortoise burrows altogether and/or staying at least 25 feet from the entrances of any burrow. When property design will allow this option, the following steps should be taken to maintain the safety and integrity of the burrow(s): Measure 25 feet out from the center of the burrow entrance in all available directions to form an approximate square. Drive four wooden stakes, (not metal), 1"x2"x48", not more than 12" into the ground at the four designated perimeter corners, leaving 36" above the ground. Secure a double course of high-visibilty surveyors ribbon around all four stakes to close the square. Hang from the tape, on all four sides, a waterproof sign that reads: PROTECTED GOPHER TORTOISE - DO NOT DISTURB. The perimeter protection should remain in place during the entire construction process and until the homeowner takes residence, at which time the new homeowner can be informed of the status of the tortoise burrow and allowed to remove the stakes with proper understanding about the importance of continued conservation. P.A.W.S. will typically perform this task for approximately $100.00, which includes our volunteer's labor, driving time, fuel costs, signs, stakes, ribbons, paint, markers, misc. materials, etc.
Our Option - 2Our second option is ONSITE RELOCATION. While not always an option, particularly when available undeveloped areas are too small, this option represents a reasonably inexpensive and much more expeditious alternative to relocating a tortoise offsite. Onsite relocation generally involves trapping or excavating the burrow, and once empty, completely collapsing it. Once the old burrow is closed, the tortoise(s) are moved to the predetermined location elsewhere on the property and enclosed in a temporary pen and supported while starter burrows are created and they are eventually released. In some instances, this option requires a permit from FWC, and is therefore not as expeditious as option - 1. Additionally, it is somewhat more stressful on the animal being relocated. Our typical expenses for this service range from $250.00 - $350.00, depending on the time required to trap and relocate. Traps must be checked twice daily, sometimes for up to 28 days or more. Our fee also includes hay bales, stakes, silt fence, expanded metal grating, volunteer time, fuel costs and misc. equipment, including the use of our infrared "downhole" video burrow monitoring system as required. Additionally, the eventual permanent property residents will be given written instructions concerning future conservation of the relocated burrow(s).
Our Option - 3OFFSITE RELOCATION is our third option. This option is much more complicated, requiring permitting and advance approval from FWC. Additionally, FWC may require testing for Upper Respiratory Tract Disease, (URTD), before relocation can occur. PAWS employs veterinary assistance for URTD testing under the protocol provided by FWC. This method requires trapping and/or excavation, testing for URTD, permitting, approval of off-site destination, mapping, marking and future monitoring. This is a more time consuming and more costly alternative. Compensated conservation consultants charge up to $6500.00 for this service. Again, our primary concern is the well-being of the animal. Our typical charges for this service, which are based on our projected actual costs, generally range between $400.00 and $600.00, which includes trapping/excavation, volunteer labor, temporary penning, veterinary services, FedEx blood cultures, transportation and misc. materials and supplies. In addition to any of our cost reimbursements/fees, donations are always appreciated. After direct expenses, more than 95% of donations that we receive go towards attaining our organizational goals.
Option - 4The fourth option offered by FWC under certain scenarios is the INCIDENTAL TAKE PERMIT. "Incidental Take", means to kill and/or entomb the tortoise in exchange for purchasing mitigation credits. At PAWS, our focus is on preserving the animals. Therefore, PAWS does not participate in any option that trades lives for dollars for any purpose. If you seek the INCIDENTAL TAKE PERMIT option, we will not be able to assist you.
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