The gopher tortoise is a candidate for the Endangered Species Act in the eastern part of its range, and endangered west of Mobile Bay. The tortoise is called a “keystone species” because of its integral role in the ecosystem. The gopher tortoise digs burrows, hence the name “gopher,” and those burrows, once abandoned, provide key habitats to roughly 350 other species. Along with restoration of the gopher tortoise, American Forests’ work is also focusing on reforestation of longleaf pine, which provide an ideal habitat for the tortoises.
To restore longleaf pine in the Southeastern U.S., American Forests is collaborating with The Longleaf Alliance, an organization dedicated to ensuring a sustainable future for the species. In addition to relocated the baby gopher tortoises in 2017, the partnership resulted in the planting of 285,000 longleaf pines and the creation and maintenance of 150 nest cavities for another endangered species, the red-cockaded woodpecker, in South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama.
“American Forests’ funding was crucial to the expansion of this project,” said Robert Abernethy, president of The Longleaf Alliance. “We have about 75 young tortoises that will be released next year and more collected in 2018. American Forests’ contribution is making a positive impact on the restoration of this state-listed endangered species.”