On December 15, 2017, Leopoldo Miranda, Assistant Regional Director for Ecological Services of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Southeast Region, signed the Framework Programmatic Conference Opinion for the Department of Defense (DoD) Gopher Tortoise Conservation and Crediting Strategy (Strategy).
This represents a new milestone for the Strategy and a step closer towards establishing the first Gopher Tortoise Conservation Area (GTCA) at Alapaha Wildlife Management Area in Georgia. The USFWS has concluded that effects from the Strategy are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Eastern population of gopher tortoise. Moving forward under the Strategy, participating military installations will be able to work with partners to create GTCAs, consult with USFWS on project-level activities in a streamlined fashion, and establish and use credits to offset military activities.
In the last three years, DoD, USFWS, and state governments within the range of the Eastern population of gopher tortoise have worked together to develop the Strategy to provide a net conservation benefit to the species. The gopher tortoise is a candidate species for protection under the Endangered Species Act (Act) in its Eastern range. The Strategy represents a new tool available for natural resource managers by which military installations in the Eastern range can implement conservation actions that can be used to offset impacts to the gopher tortoise if the species becomes listed in the future.
The Strategy focuses on high-priority conservation lands that host important gopher tortoise populations but are not under permanent conservation management. Through these conservation actions, “credits” can be obtained for regulatory predictability and flexibility for the military if the species is later protected under the ESA. The hope is that conservation actions taken through the Strategy will address those conservation priorities necessary to help avoid the need to list the species in the future. Additional information on the Strategy is available in the USFWS Southeast Region's press release on its adoption in March 2017.