West Palm Beach, FL -
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board on Thursday took an innovative step that will save two precious Florida resources, the threatened gopher tortoise and taxpayer dollars.
"As Governing Board members, we are stewards of the environment and tax monies entrusted to us," said SFWMD Governing Board Chairman Dan O'Keefe. "To help a threatened species, while also making a conscious effort to minimize the use of taxpayer funds is the definition of a 'win-win' for the District."
The Governing Board granted a conservation easement to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for 142.6 acres on the Fort Basinger property to create a long-term gopher tortoise relocation site. The Fort Basinger property is a 264-acre area between Highway 98 and the Kissimmee River in Highlands County that SFWMD acquired as part of the Kissimmee River Restoration Project. Open to the public as part of the vast 30,000-acre Kissimmee River Public Use Area, this property has well-drained sandy areas, tree canopies and low-growing vegetation that make it perfect habitat for gopher tortoises.
Gopher tortoises are designated by the state as a "threatened" species and are required to be relocated to approved sites if impacted by District earth-moving activities or construction. Over the past five years, the District has spent about $778,000 relocating tortoises from levees and ongoing restoration projects, including to private lands in approved relocation sites.
The FWC easement and relocation site on District-owned land will accommodate more than 300 tortoises at the Highlands County site. This allows construction to continue on ongoing and future projects needed to restore the Everglades and provide flood protection to millions of residents. Additionally, not having to pay relocation fees will save more than $400,000 in taxpayer dollars.
The relocation of these Gopher tortoises to Fort Basinger will not affect the public's ability to use the property for recreational purposes, which include hunting, hiking, biking, hunting, bird watching and more.
Learn more about all the ways SFWMD manages its land to provide good environmental stewardship and conservation.