Two new hatchlings join the protected community.
Q: Why are gopher tortoises so important?
A: Gopher tortoises vary in size from hatchlings slightly larger than a flattened golf ball, to adults that weigh over 20 pounds. These prehistoric creatures are the only tortoise species found in Florida (click here for the difference between a turtle and a tortoise). For years, they were a common food source for the people in the Panhandle and were listed as a species of “Special Concern.” But as development encroached further into their habitat, in 2008, they were uplisted to a Threatened Species. This means that anyone who works with them must be an authorized agent through Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation to ensure they know how to handle the tortoises and identify and excavate their burrows.
Q: What types of work do you perform for the Nature Center?
Craig visits with two scrub jays, another
threatened species, at Bonita Nature Place.
Q: Tortoises seem special to you.
A: Tortoises and turtles have always been one of my favorite species. When I was growing up in Illinois we always stopped and picked up the box turtles we found crossing the road. I had a backyard pen where I kept them all summer. Come winter I’d take them out in the woods and turn them loose again. And the next summer I’d start all over again. I also had a wading pool full of little aquatic turtles I’d catch in the park and keep until fall.
A gopher tortoise safely roams the
grounds of its protected home.
A: At last count around 24 and the population is growing because people are aware of the Nature Center, they are actually dropping the tortoises over the fence when they find them on the roads. We try to discourage that for many reasons, but it’s better than having them killed on the roads.
Q: How does your job with Stantec relate to your volunteer work?
A: I was the first ecologist hired by WilsonMiller (now Stantec) in 1987, when regulatory permitting for land development began to become a much more involved process. There is no place in the US with the variety of listed species and habitat types that you find in Florida because of the subtropical climate. We do species surveys for red-cockaded woodpeckers, gopher tortoises, Florida scrub jays, fox squirrels, burrowing owls, bald eagles, Florida panthers, black bears, and banded tree snails, just to name a few. There are also the listed plants and protected habitat types in different counties in Florida that also have special permitting requirements.
Q: It sounds like you enjoy your job.
A: I enjoy the outdoors and wildlife I encounter and I’m fortunate to have the job I do. A lot of people with office jobs would probably enjoy some of this type work and the wildlife I see in the field. But they wouldn’t like the hot summer days or the neck-deep water we also have to deal with on some projects. It’s a matter of enjoying what you do and having the right experience or training. I was fortunate enough to be here when WilsonMiller needed a biologist all those years ago and am glad to still be here today.