For Immediate Release, May 23, 2019

Contact:

Elise Bennett, (727) 755-6950, ebennett@biologicaldiversity.com

Lawsuit Aims to Force Trump to Protect Eastern Gopher Tortoise in Florida, Other Southern States

Administration Stalling Safeguards for Southeast's Only Tortoise, Other Critically Endangered Wildlife

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The Center for Biological Diversity and San Francisco Baykeeper sued the Trump administration today for failing to protect the eastern gopher tortoise and seven other highly imperiled species across the country under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined the gopher tortoise warrants endangered species protections but has failed to actually provide such safeguards across its range. Gopher tortoises in Louisiana, Mississippi and western Alabama are already protected under the Endangered Species Act, but those in eastern Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina still await protections.

“Gopher tortoises are dying for protection,” said Elise Bennett, a Center attorney dedicated to protecting reptiles and amphibians. “The Endangered Species Act is the strongest tool we have to protect these gentle creatures from extinction. If Trump officials don’t act quickly, they could disappear.”

Eastern gopher tortoises have shovel-like front legs and strong, thick back legs to help them dig intricate burrows, which are used by more than 360 other species.

The tortoises need large, unfragmented long-leaf pine forests to survive. They are severely threatened by development-caused habitat loss and fragmentation, which limits food availability and options for burrow sites. Development also exposes tortoises to mortality from being crushed in their burrows during construction, run over by cars or persecuted by humans.

U.N. scientists recently released a report finding that as many as a million species are at risk of extinction. Yet the Trump administration has been delaying protections for a wide array of critically imperiled wildlife.

To date, the administration has listed only 17 species under the Endangered Species Act — the fewest protected by any administration in its first two years since the Reagan administration. By comparison, the Obama administration listed 72 species and the Clinton administration listed 196 during their first two years.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.