The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Florida is currently taking applications for technical and financial assistance on a new innovative partnership approach to restore and protect the habitat for targeted threatened and endangered species, while also helping other vulnerable and game species. Florida landowners can sign-up for assistance to help manage and restore habitat for the gopher tortoise. Applications are accepted year-round but eligible applications received by the application cutoff date of April 30, 2012 will be assigned a priority and ranked as needed. Applications within the priority habitat areas will receive highest consideration.
Under this strategy, Federal, state and local wildlife experts jointly identify at-risk species that would benefit from targeted habitat restoration investments on private lands. Using the best available science, the partners will prioritize restoration actions on a large regional scale to focus assistance where it is needed most. In return for voluntarily making habitat improvements on their lands, the Federal government will provide landowners with assurance that they will not be asked to take additional regulatory conservation actions.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Department of Interior’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will jointly prepare species recovery tools such as informal agreements, safe harbor agreements and habitat conservation plans to provide regulatory certainty to landowners. The intent is to continue this targeted species recovery work beyond this year.
In Florida, the targeted species, gopher tortoise, is a threatened wildlife species and both the tortoise and its burrow are protected by state law. Habitat destruction is a significant threat. Gopher tortoises are long-lived reptiles that occupy upland habitat throughout Florida including sandhills, pine flatwoods, scrub, scrubby flatwoods, dry prairies, pine-mixed hardwoods, and coastal dunes which have historically been maintained by periodic wild fires. The tortoises have adapted to frequent fire occurrences by digging burrows deep into the sandy soil. When fire is suppressed, small trees, shrubs, and brambles begin to grow making it difficult for the gopher tortoise to move around and eventually shade out the low growing plants that gopher tortoises eat.