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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

One Tortoise, One Man and a few Possibilities 

The animals in Florida like animals everywhere are under increasing pressure; overcrowded, overrun by progress and burdened with the ominous prospect of extinction.

Today was remarkable in that one got away, saved by a man who did the right thing and intervened to save not just a member of an endangered species, but a life in danger.

Traveling north on Florida's infamous coast road, Alternate 19, we were startled to see a man dash out in front of south bound traffic, scoop something up and return with it to his car pulled onto the shoulder by the Pinellas Trail. We stopped ahead on the north bound shoulder and after traffic cleared I had a chance to talk with him. Turns out he is an employee of Florida Fish and Wildlife who, while driving, had spotted the predicament of the tortoise and pulled over to lend a hand. More than just doing his job, he made a difference and that's remarkable.

The Gopher Tortoise is indigenous to north and central Florida and though once numerous it has been driven to endangered/read that protected, status by over development. These creatures are losing habitat at an alarming rate. Many are killed outright by motorists
and many more, unbelievably are buried in their tunnels when bulldozers flatten a site for construction and die.

The Gopher Tortoise is protected under Florida law and provision is made to remove them to safe habitats before construction begins. Unfortunately the law provides an alternative to removal which is more time consuming than costly, that is to pay a fee, sort of a fine in advance, so the developer can simply ignore the protected status of the Gopher Tortoise and start construction without removal; the toll is a terrible one, the fee isn't much.

However with the help of his rescuer one got out and is now in a reserve far away from traffic, construction and hopefully the Florida State Legislature.


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