Fish and Wildlife Service makes 90-day finding on eastern gopher tortoise
74 Fed. Reg. 46401 / Vol. 74, No. 173 /Wednesday, September 9, 2009
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR / Fish and Wildlife Service / 50 CFR Part 17
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; 90-Day Finding on a Petition to List the Eastern Population of the Gopher Tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) as Threatened
ACTION: Notice of 90–day petition finding and initiation of status review.
SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, announce a 90–day finding on a petition to list the eastern population of the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act) and designate critical habitat. Herein, the Service refers to the eastern population of the gopher tortoise as the gopher tortoise in the eastern portion of its range. Following a review of the petition, we find that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that listing the gopher tortoise in the eastern portion of its range may be warranted. Therefore, with the publication of this notice, we are initiating a status review to determine if listing the gopher tortoise in the eastern portion of the range is warranted. To ensure that the status review is comprehensive, we are soliciting scientific and commercial data and other information regarding the status of and threats facing the gopher tortoise throughout all of its range.
The gopher tortoise typically inhabits relatively well-drained, sandy soils. This species is generally associated with longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)– xeric oak (Quercus spp.) sandhills but also occurs in scrub, xeric hammock, pine flatwoods, dry prairie, coastal grasslands and dunes, and mixed hardwood-pine communities. The eastern portion of the gopher tortoise’s range includes Alabama (east of the Tombigbee and Mobile Rivers), Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Photo from Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission.
KEITHINKING: Florida may be ground zero for the species. A noteworthy excerpt states: "Included in the petition is a quote from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) that, 'it may be inevitable that gopher tortoises will be largely eliminated from private lands in Florida within the next three generations, which would represent a 60-65 percent decline in tortoise habitat. We anticipate similar losses in the other range states,' ... natural pine forests in Florida declined from 2.26 million ha (5.58 million ac) to 1.14 million ha (2.82 million ac), a 49.4 percent loss in approximately one tortoise generation (31 years)."