The Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative (GTCI) is a collaborative that aims to “Preserve Promote & Partner” alongside state agencies, conservation groups, for-profit companies, foundations and landowners to protect Georgia’s economic viability and multiple species of concern. Its primary mission is to prevent Georgia’s state reptile, the gopher tortoise, from joining the Endangered Species list, and in doing so, protect and restore tens of thousands of acres of longleaf pine ecosystems in Georgia.
The gopher tortoise is considered a “keystone species” in Georgia, meaning that over 300 other species depend on the tortoise for survival. These land turtles dig burrows up to 10 feet deep and 40 feet long that shelter them from extreme temperatures, fire and predators. The burrows provide a home for the tortoise, and for hundreds of other species including the eastern indigo snake, gopher frog, and pine snake.
The gopher tortoise requires open, dry, sandy upland habitat, such as the longleaf pine forests in south and coastal Georgia. Longleaf pine forests and gopher tortoises are in peril in Georgia and across the Southeast. This once-abundant ecosystem now covers only 5 percent of its original 90 million acres.
As Georgia continues to grow and prosper, we must be mindful of the environmental impact of our success. Protecting the gopher tortoise, and thereby protecting hundreds of other species, is an example of how businesses, state agencies, federal stakeholders, and communities can work together to ensure that we remain good stewards of our state’s resources.
The Gopher Tortoise Conservation Initiative seeks to permanently protect at least 65 viable gopher tortoise populations by 2020. To do that, the collaborative is raising funds to protect 100,000 acres of gopher tortoise habitat in Georgia.
The GTCI Steering Committee consists of the Georgia Conservancy, Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Resources Division, National Resources Conservation Science (NRCS), The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, The Orianne Society and WildArk.