In September 2014, TESF and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) released 25 threatened gopher tortoises on Ted Turner’s Avalon property in Jefferson County, Florida. Without intervention, these tortoises may not have survived because the land they were living on was slated for development.

Through a voluntary agreement with the land developers, volunteers captured the tortoises from a property in Clay County.

Ted Turner offered more than five-hundred acres on his Avalon property in Jefferson County to provide well-managed habitat for some tortoises in need of homes. Because it provides such ideal habitat, the FWC approved Avalon to receive more than 1,000 tortoises. So far, a total of 43 tortoises have been released on the property.

Avalon provides optimal gopher tortoise habitat that can support a viable population of gopher tortoises. This longleaf pine ecosystem is already well managed, through the use of frequent prescribed burns, to benefit other wildlife that share similar habitat as gopher tortoises.

“I am honored that my land will be a secure home for imperiled gopher tortoises,” said Ted Turner. “The species has been an important part of Florida’s past and should be an important part of our great state’s future.”

As a threatened species, the gopher tortoise and its extensive burrows are protected under state law. As of 2007, the FWC’s Gopher Tortoise Management Plan requires that gopher tortoises be relocated before development or land clearing occurs. However, some developers still have valid permits they received prior to this new regulation. Developers with these permits are not required to relocate tortoises to another site.

“The release of these tortoises is an inspiring example of cooperative efforts by the FWC and partners like the Turner Endangered Species Fund to protect the threatened gopher tortoise,” said Nick Wiley, Executive Director of the FWC. “We are grateful to landowners, developers and the many others in Florida who take pride in their efforts to help conserve a keystone species whose burrows provide habitat for hundreds of other species of native wildlife.”

Gopher tortoises are long-lived reptiles that live in high, dry, sandy places throughout Florida. They are considered a keystone species because the burrows they dig are used by more than 350 species of wild animals and insects that share the same habitat. These tortoises occur in parts of all 67 counties in Florida.

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