Agency is strapped for resources needed to take action
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declined to list the Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) as threatened without further review, and the service says it does not have the time or funds to take action right now, according to a report in the Miami Herald. Instead, the agency classified the reptile as a "candidate" species, which federal officials can try to protect with voluntary assistance of property owners on which the tortoise resides.
The tortoise has fallen victim to a rash of human caused maladies, from the paving of the sandy scrubland the animal calls home, to improperly applied herbicides, to the now illegal event that buried an estimated 70,000 live animals by developers.
The gopher tortoise is considered a keystone species by scientists, due to its burrowing nature, which then helps an estimated 360 other animal species who take advantage of those networks of tunnels. It averages about a foot long and can be found in along the coastal plains of the Southeastern United States, including South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, southern Alabama, Mississippi, and southeastern Louisiana. It dines primarily on grasses in the wild and can eat beans, corn and most fruit. It is protected throughout its range and requires a permit to keep as a pet.