As spring blooms, Alabama Power biologists help environmental partners with fieldwork aimed at protecting rare species around the state like the gopher tortoise.
Gopher tortoises can be found in the coastal plains of Alabama. They are also native to Florida, southern sections of Mississippi, South Carolina and Georgia, and a tiny slice of eastern Louisiana. While these tortoises can live up to 60 years in the wild, their numbers have dwindled over the past century because of habitat destruction. As a result, they are listed as federally threatened species within the western part of their range in Alabama – in Mobile, Washington and Choctaw counties – as well as in Mississippi and Louisiana. State regulations also help protect the gopher tortoise in states where they live.
Officials are considering expanding the federal protections geographically for populations east of the Tombigbee and Mobile rivers. Gopher tortoises play an essential role in local ecosystems. They are considered “keystone species” because their burrows – some as deep as 20 feet – serve as temporary and permanent homes for more than 360 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates, according to the Gopher Tortoise Project.
Alabama Power works with partners, such as the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and FWS, to help protect gopher tortoises, especially around transmission lines. These tortoises can sometimes be found living in open areas along Alabama Power rights of way, especially near longleaf pine forests.
When work needs to be done along company transmission lines, our biologists will first search the area for tortoise burrows. If found, they are marked with signs such as “Sensitive Area” and “No Equipment or Excavation Within 25 Feet.” Placing these signs ensures their burrows aren’t disturbed. These efforts help protect tortoises and their existing habitats and support the long-term sustainability of local populations.
We are helping to expand and improve the management of the longleaf pine ecosystem, a favorite habitat for the tortoise, in partnership with Southern Company and NFWF’s Longleaf Stewardship Fund. We also partner with the Alabama Tortoise Alliance, which fosters communications and coordination among a variety of organizations, agencies and private landowners interested in helping protect gopher tortoises. We are enrolled in the Gopher Tortoise Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA), sharing its goal of organizing a cooperative, range-wide approach to managing and conserving gopher tortoise populations.
“Partnerships like these, particularly ones that have the potential to benefit many associated species, leverage conservation efforts,” explained Alabama Power Biologist Jeff Baker to Alabama Newscenter. Our other partners in tortoise protection include the Alabama Forestry Commission, ADCNR and the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
We are committed to protecting fish and wildlife habits throughout our state. As Susan Comensky, Alabama Power’s vice president of Environmental Affairs, shared with Alabama Newscenter, “Species and habitat conservation ensure the sustainability of our natural resources for future generations.”