Friday, December 11, 2015

Tales From the Over Regulated State #19 - Your Property Belongs to Threatened Species

I should say threatened, endangered or whatever critter has gotten favor from the Over Regulated State.

A friend living a few blocks over, I'll call him "Tim", tells me one of those stories that sends ice through the hearts of homeowners.  One night a few weeks ago, Tim's wife told him she saw a gopher tortoise near a back corner of their house.   Gophers are called that because they're borrowing tortoises and he became concerned about it perhaps digging enough that it undermines the foundation.  The next day he went out and found piles of sand next to a burrow apparently going directly under the house.  Some research showed that they ordinarily tunnel at a shallow angle and probably wouldn't endanger the foundation, but after considering the possibility concluded that they'd rather the critter not be under their house.  That's when the "fun" started.
That's when he found out that it's illegal.  Gophers are considered endangered both by the state of Florida and the, and one doesn't simply pick up the tortoise and move it as they please.  Oh, no.  There's a process.  The Fish and Wildlife Commission states:
If you have gopher tortoises on your property, you need to get a FWC relocation permit before disturbing the burrows.  A disturbance includes any type of work within 25 feet of a gopher tortoise burrow. Most typical activities associated with residential lawn and landscape maintenance do not require a permit, provided they do not collapse gopher tortoise burrows or harm gopher tortoises.
I read that to say if you don't get a permit and you do accidentally collapse a gopher tortoise burrow while mowing, or God forbid hurt one, "you're in a heap of trouble".  Continuing...
The 10 or Fewer Burrows Relocation permit is for projects, usually single residential construction, which require the relocation of five or fewer tortoises (10 burrows or less).
If tortoises are going to be relocated on-site (within the boundary of the development specified in the application) the individual capturing and relocating the tortoises must complete the FWC online training prior to capturing gopher tortoises. If tortoises will be relocated off-site (outside the boundary of the development specified in the application) a permitted authorized agent must capture and relocate the tortoises.
Notice that all a homeowner is allowed to do, even after taking the one course and getting the state's permission, is to move the tortoise within the boundaries of their property.  If they want to move the animal off their property, they can't just drive it to a nearby park, for example, they're only allowed to use a state-certified recipient site.  And the homeowner can't just capture the tortoise, put it on a pillow, and have a helper fan the tortoise with a palm frond while they drive it to the recipient site; the transfer can only be done by an Authorized Agent.  Being an affair of state, don't expect to get away with doing this at no cost, either:
To obtain a 10 or Fewer Burrows permit, the individual handling the gopher tortoise(s) must either complete the online e-Learning curriculum or have an Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agent permit, and submit a $207 mitigation contribution.
Tim had to take the one hour online FWC training to get the permit to capture his new (rent-free) tenant.  He took the course and found that the system didn't credit him for taking it.  Annoyed by this point, he sat back and waited.  A few days later, an email from the State FWC's IT department told him they fixed it and he was given his due credit.

The tortoise, though, remains under the house.  Tim says that in the early morning quiet, he can hear the sound of the tortoise's home theater system coming through the concrete slab and in the mornings, it smells of stale beer outside.  No, that last sentence isn't true.  I totally made that up.   

The disturbing part of this is how common it is.  All across the country, we hear stories of threatened or endangered species interfering with people's activities.  Consider how the diminutive delta smelt's threatened status led to stopping irrigation in California's central valley, some of the richest farmland in America.  The resulting man-made drought continues to this day.  Need I point out that the real problem is conflict between people using the smelt to argue for restoration of a "Garden of Eden", pre-human California, and people who argue humans have rights, too?  The irrigation pumps were stopped despite genuine debate that they were responsible for the smelt's decline.   It's a recurring theme around the country.


  1. We had one on our fence line with our next door neighbor. The burrow went under his yard, not mine.

    When we warned the new owner of what had been a long vacant property of the resident, he plugged the burrow when he caught the tortoise out for a stroll.

    Calling FWC so as to not be blamed for it... They said they'd send someone out to talk to me. Going on a year now.

    Seems that plugging the burrow causes them to self-relocate. It was only up in their yard because the flooding had driven lots of critters to higher ground. I expect it returned to whence it came once they plugged its new hole.

    1. His wife now says that not just putting the critter in her car and driving up the nearest park was her biggest mistake.

      I have no doubt that when they enact these protection measures they really hurt some of the critters they're trying to help. That's another thing that there are examples of all over the country.

    2. That was my first thought: better not to inform the authorities, just take care of it and say you thought it was just a turtle and didn't want to risk running over it with the lawn mower.

    3. Far better to put it in your car, drive to your nearest politician's home, and place it on his doorstep. Or better yet, quickly dig a burrow for it under his garage...

  2. So you guys have been chided by FWC for not having the right lights yet? You know them turtles pick your properties because they confuse your porch lights with the moon and you need to call an expert that will charge you up the butt and force you to buy special lights or keep your house in darkness till turtle season is over.

    1. Miguel, that's the case beachside. I'm on the mainland. You know how the turtles hatch around August? (It's why we have redfish runs that time of year.) We used to ride our bikes down to Sebastian inlet and see lots of dead turtles on the bike trails. That means they crossed A1A before dying. 100 yards? More than that in places, for sure.

  3. Replies
    1. Manatees - they're ugly, but they taste great!

    2. They call them Cattle of the Sea. (Actually, I'm told they taste more like pork chops than beef).