In a recent development, a residential construction site owner in Citrus County, Florida, has been charged with multiple gopher tortoise violations, as reported in the latest press release by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), dated August 18-24.
The press release, while not disclosing the identity of the construction site owner or the precise location of the incidents, highlights a concerning case of environmental negligence.
Lieutenant Ransom of the FWC led an exhaustive investigation into violations related to the protection of gopher tortoises. The investigation began in April of 2023 when reports surfaced regarding new residential construction taking place in an area known to host several gopher tortoise burrows.
Upon inspecting the site, Lieutenant Ransom documented the presence of 19 gopher tortoise burrows. During this inspection, the construction company owner responsible for the project approached Lieutenant Ransom. The owner acknowledged prior citations for gopher tortoise violations and claimed familiarity with the appropriate relocation procedures. Additionally, the land clearing contractor on the project also admitted awareness of the burrows and proper relocation protocols.
In response, Lieutenant Ransom issued clear instructions to adhere to regulations designed to protect gopher tortoises and their burrows, emphasizing the importance of following the relocation and permitting process.
In May, Lieutenant Ransom, along with FWC gopher tortoise biologists, revisited the area. They posted notices warning of the gopher tortoise presence and provided contact information for further inquiries.
However, when Lieutenant Ransom returned to the construction site in June, he observed that multiple burrows he had documented earlier had been adversely affected or destroyed. Furthermore, it was confirmed that no permits had been obtained for the construction project.
Despite multiple attempts to engage with the construction company owner, Lieutenant Ransom's efforts were in vain. Eventually, he managed to speak with the Superintendent of Construction Activities for the company, who admitted being informed about the burrows by the owner but made no effort to secure the required permits.
After numerous visits and unsuccessful attempts to communicate with both the construction company owner and superintendent, Lieutenant Ransom proceeded to file multiple charges through the State Attorney's Office. These charges pertain to the violations committed by the construction company owner and superintendent in relation to the protection of gopher tortoises.
The Florida gopher tortoise is listed as a threatened species in Florida due to habitat loss and fragmentation caused by urbanization and development. Their burrows also provide homes for many other wildlife species, making them a keystone species in the ecosystem.
Various organizations and agencies in Florida, including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), work to protect and conserve gopher tortoises and their habitats. Efforts include land management practices that preserve tortoise burrows, relocation of tortoises from development sites, and public education about the importance of conserving these reptiles.