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Conservation commission should fix its own mistake

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission apparently has been confused about what exactly is meant by “conservation.”

According to a blog post on, Florida wildlife officials have voted to end the practice of allowing developers to bury gopher tortoises alive, thereby suffocating them, instead of removing and relocating them from building sites. While this seems to be a respectable move by the commission, it was the commission that approved the practice in the first place.

For 16 years, the commission has sold “incidental take” permits for $1,300 per tortoise that allowed developers to kill these creatures, according to an article in Wednesday’s Florida Today. The tortoises have a slow metabolism, and can take months to die after being entombed by developers. This process was aptly described by Maureen Rupe, president of Partnership for a Sustainable Future, as “barbaric and horrific by any person’s standards.”

The gopher tortoises are described in the Today article as a keystone species whose fate impacts more than 370 other species – including the imperiled Florida mouse and indigo snake. The tortoises are listed as a species of special concern by the commission, and their status is intended to be upgraded to “threatened” in September. The necessity for this upgrade, however, is due almost entirely to the commission’s own policy.

At least the commission is not claiming innocence. Rodney Barreto, the commission chairman, admitted that the former policy was a mistake. “What we’ve done here is wrong, and we’re going to make it right,” he said.

Such a resolution requires more than lip service, however. Developers are clamoring for clarification on what the grandfathering policy will be according to the ban, which goes into effect on July 30. An additional concern is the scarcity of available habitat for relocation purposes. And, of course, there is the issue of the monetary burden that is now to be placed on landowners seeking to develop their property.

These are challenging issues, to be sure, and it seems only just that the commission – presumably charged with the conservation of wildlife, but whose policy has led to pushing a species closer to, rather than further away from, extinction – be the entity that bears the brunt of the costs. After 16 years of accepting money from developers as part of an ill-conceived program, it is time for the commission to both find and fund an acceptablesolution.