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Gopher Tortoise Program


In 1987, the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) was listed as a threatened species in the western portions of its range, from western Alabama to southeastern Louisiana. These tortoises are known as gophers because they dwell in burrows they dig in sandy soils. These burrows are as deep as ten (10) feet and as long as 25 to 35 feet. The burrows provide homes to co-inhabitants such as the dung beetle, the gopher frog and various snakes (including the eastern diamondback rattlesnake). Animals such as the fox squirrel, opossum, raccoon, fox, armadillo, and quail often occupy abandoned burrows.

The tortoise is closely associated with the longleaf pine ecosystem, a biologically diverse forest type that has declined by more than 95%. The decline in tortoise population can be directly associated with habitat loss, fire suppression, habitat fragmentation, human predation, and declining densities in remaining populations. In Mobile County, development and fragmentation of tortoise habitat are significant threats to the tortoise. It is essential to the survival of the gopher tortoise that conservation of the longleaf pine ecosystem continues. This conservation includes the use of prescribed burning by landowners, control of cogon grass, and the control of hardwoods.
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