Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gopher tortoises no longer buried alive, but will relocation save them?

Gopher tortoises

Gopher tortoises no longer buried alive, but will relocation save them?

Florida's approach to saving gopher tortoises from extinction a decade ago allowed developers to bury the docile reptiles alive in their burrows in return for what critics called "blood money" that was used to buy and protect tortoise habitat elsewhere.

Thousands of tortoises a year were sentenced to death at the height of Florida's building boom, with Orange County leading the way. Opposition from environmentalists and animal-rights advocates finally brought a halt to the state's "pay to pave" program in 2007 — just as the nationwide housing slump and Great Recession brought a halt to most new construction, anyway. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission allows developers to move tortoises that are blocking construction just a short distance to an undisturbed area of the same development tract. Most of the time, though, developers pay the owners of designated ranches, timberland and other largely natural landscapes to take in tortoises from construction sites.

To get paid for adopting these long-living land dwellers, those landowners must permanently designate their acreage as green space and ensure it remains healthy — not overgrown with brush, for example — as tortoise habitat.

a $1,000 payment to the owner of the relocation site.

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