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DeSantis signs bill on gopher tortoise sites

A female gopher tortoise, about 20 years old, at the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center near Newton, Ga.
A female gopher tortoise, about 20 years old, at the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center near Newton, Ga.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed a bill that could lead to increasing the sites where gopher tortoises can be moved out of the path of development.

Lawmakers in March passed the bill (SB 494) as development continues to expand into areas where gopher tortoises dig burrows and as conservationists push for protecting the habitats.

In part, the bill directs state agencies to consider using parts of certain public lands as gopher tortoise “recipient” sites.

Among other things, the bill calls for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to “streamline and improve the review of applications for public and private gopher tortoise recipient sites.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement last month that will require the federal agency to determine by Sept. 30 whether gopher tortoises in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and eastern Alabama should be listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The settlement came in a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity that accused the federal agency of “dragging its feet” on listing gopher tortoises and other species.

Gopher tortoises are already listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in Louisiana, Mississippi and western Alabama.

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