Gopher Tortoises are Still Protected in South Carolina

A baby gopher tortoise walks through grass and sand.
Randy Browning/USFWS

South Carolina’s chief reptile and amphibian biologist says that gopher tortoises are still protected in the Palmetto State despite a recent federal decision that said additional protections are not warranted in four Southeastern states, including South Carolina

“There was some confusion, as some people believed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision meant that gopher tortoises are no longer protected,” said Andrew Grosse, state herpetologist for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). “However, one of the reasons for that decision is that all the states in the eastern portion of the gopher tortoise’s range have state protections in place that will not change with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision. In South Carolina, gopher tortoises are listed as state endangered.”

Being listed as state endangered means it is illegal to “take” any gopher tortoise in South Carolina. “Take,” according to state law, is defined as to “harass, hunt, capture, or kill or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill wildlife.”

In other words, sufficient protections are in place to protect gopher tortoises in South Carolina, according to Grosse.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released a 113-page decision Oct. 12 that said gopher tortoises would continue to be considered a threatened species in parts of southwest Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana under the Endangered Species Act.

But it said increased federal protections are not warranted for gopher tortoises in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and other parts of Alabama, despite issues such as development moving into the animals’ habitats.

“Although the threats to the species of habitat loss and fragmentation due to urbanization, climate change, sea level rise, and habitat management are expected to persist in the foreseeable future and the effects of these threats on this long-lived species will continue at some level, some threats have been reduced and will continue to be reduced through implemented and ongoing conservation actions and regulatory mechanisms,” the agency’s decision said.

Prepared by SCDNR.