A commercial landscaping service has cleared vegetation on a vacant lot on Marco Island, and impacted countless gopher tortoises and their burrows. A dead gopher tortoise was found amid the vegetation.
Around mid-morning on Friday, September 14th, a concerned neighbor noticed vegetation being cleared from the property at 1851 San Marco Road. The City of Marco Island was notified of a possible violation and within ten minutes Marco Island’s Environmental Planner, Tonia Selmeski and Director of Community Affairs, Dan Smith, along with representatives from the city’s Code Enforcement Department arrived at the scene and immediately stopped work.
Unfortunately, the lot had been mostly cleared and the damage to the protected species habitat had been done. A licensed Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) law enforcement officer and an FWC Gopher Tortoise Agent also arrived at the scene to assess the extent of the damage to the protected species and their burrows. City representatives remained at the scene for several hours while FWC walked the lot looking for possible signs of surviving gopher tortoise. According to Tonia Selmeski, both city and FWC law enforcement is treating this as an active case.
Past History: On October 9 and 10, 2017, vegetation was removed and soil graded on the same property (1851 San Marco Road) using heavy equipment, and without obtaining a city permit, impacting countless burrows for both the gopher tortoise and burrowing owls.
After entombment caused by heavy equipment, there have been instances where gopher tortoises were able to self-excavate. Studies have shown that after self-excavation, a majority of the gopher tortoises stay in their collapsed burrow while others moved to new burrows.
According to FWC, this particular lot has records documenting the presence of gopher tortoises and burrowing owls. This property has all the characteristics of a gopher tortoise habitat and by law a city permit and FWC permit are required prior to the removal of vegetation.
Gopher tortoises and their burrows are protected by Florida law – meaning that burrows or any land within 25 feet of a burrow cannot be disturbed without obtaining an FWC relocation permit. Prior to initiating development activity, landowners or developers must obtain proper permits before clearing activities can take place.
Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.) Rule 68A-27.004 states that the gopher tortoise (gopherus polyphemus) is declared to be threatened, and shall be afforded the protective provisions specified in this paragraph. “No person shall take, attempt to take, pursue, hunt, harass, capture, possess, sell or transport any gopher tortoise or parts thereof or their eggs or molest, damage or destroy gopher tortoise or their burrows except as authorized by FWC permit.”
See something, do something: If you suspect a violation at a vacant lot with posted gopher tortoise signs or a known habitat for gopher tortoise, please immediately call the FWC Hotline at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922) or text Tip@myfwc.com.