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FWC extends gopher tortoise order that conservationists say weakens protections

Aresco introduces a gopher tortoise rescued from a suburban construction site to its natural habitat at Nokuse. The gopher tortoise is a threatened species in Florida.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is extending most of the provisions of an executive order that conservationists say favors development over gopher tortoises. 

Florida Fish and Wildlife issued the executive order in November to address high demand, the agency said, for relocation sites for gopher tortoises displaced by development. 

Conservation groups said the order weakened protections for the imperiled tortoises by, among other things, waiving a rule prohibiting their relocation more than 100 miles to the north or south.

The groups said the rule is aimed at preventing isolated populations of the tortoises, which are listed in Florida as threatened. 

The new order extends most of the provisions for another 60 days. It drops two provisions allowing for gopher tortoises to be relocated temporarily on-site and to public lands. 

Florida Fish and Wildlife says more than 45,000 gopher tortoises have been relocated since 2008. The agency says it will re-evaluate the situation at the end of the 60 days. 
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