As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit conservation organization, part of our mission is to share accurate and up-to-date information with environmental professionals who work hands-on with threatened and endangered species. Wildlands Conservation offers Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-approved training courses that meet the requirements for the Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agent permit.
Our instructors are experts in gopher tortoise biology, permitting, relocation, and research, including Dr. Henry Mushinsky, a Professor Emeritus in Biology and former Graduate Director of the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of South Florida. He has served as an advisor and a collaborator with Wildlands since the organization’s inception in 2003, and is currently the Chair of Wildlands’ Board of Directors. Henry has published over 120 papers on Florida’s indigenous herpetofauna, habitat restoration, and Florida ecology, as well as co-authored the leading text on North American tortoises, Biology and Conservation of North American Tortoises.
Gopher Tortoise Ecology & FWC Permitting Guidelines
No authorization provided, but a prerequisite for the following courses.
Gopher Tortoise Survey Techniques for Relocation (Donor) Sites
Successful Completion results in the authorization to conduct Gopher Tortoise Surveys.
Gopher Tortoise Survey Techniques for Recipient Sites
Successful Completion results in the authorization to conduct Burrow Scoping.
Gopher Tortoise Capture and Transport
Successful Completion results in the authorization to capture tortoises via Bucket Trap, Live Trap, and Hand Shovel Excavation.
Supervision of Burrow Excavations Using Mechanical Equipment**
Successful Completion results in a reduction in experience required from the supervision of 50 burrow excavations and capture of 20 tortoises to 30 burrow excavations and 12 tortoise captures.
**Only taught to small groups in conjunction with a permitted gopher tortoise relocation project.
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Gopher Tortoise Marking, Transport, and Release
Successful Completion results in the authorization to Mark, Transport, and Release tortoises after having marked a minimum of five (5) live gopher tortoises under the supervision of an instructor.
Recipient Site Permitting and Management
This course provides a more in-depth review of the advanced requirements for recipient sites according to the most current FWC Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines.
Introductory Authorized Agent Training (GT1000 & GT2000): A four-day course which introduces students to tortoise biology, permitting, and surveys. Successful completion of this course will allow students to conduct surveys, but they will be unable to apply for gopher tortoise relocation permits without an authorized capture method.
Basic Authorized Agent Training (GT1000, GT2000 & GT3000): A five-day course which covers all of the requirements to become an Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agent to conduct surveys, submit permit applications for relocation projects (10 or Fewer Burrow Permits, Conservation Permits, and Disturbed Site Permits only), capture tortoises (using bucket or live traps, or hand shovel excavation), and transport tortoises.
Infraction classes will be offered on a case-by-case basis. For Non-risk Category infractions that do not put the tortoise at risk an abbreviated course might be offered that focuses specifically on the FWC permitting guidelines related to the infraction. Such cases are at the discretion of Wildlands Conservation. For any Risk Category I or higher infractions that put the tortoise at risk, students will be required to take the full course (including all field activities) appropriate to the infraction. In all cases, Wildlands Conservation reserves the right to refuse offering an infraction course to an individual.
Continuing Education Units
The Wildlife Society has approved the following Continuing Education Units (CEUs) in Category I of the Certified Wildlife Biologist® Renewal/ Professional Development Certificate Program for the successful completion of the following Wildlands Conservation gopher tortoise authorized agent training courses:
- Ecology and Natural History of Gopher Tortoise: 5 CEUs
- Gopher Tortoise Permitting Process and Guidelines: 5 CEUs
- Gopher Tortoise Survey Techniques: 7 CEUs
- Gopher Tortoise Capture Procedures: 5 CEUs
- Gopher Tortoise Marking, Transport, and Release: 3 CEUs
- Gopher Tortoise Recipient Site Permitting and Habitat: 9.5 CEUs
- Mechanical Excavation of Gopher Tortoise Burrows: 7.5 CEUs
Participants can count up to 42 CEUs for the full training.
Available Courses and Registration
April 26–30 at Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park in Pasco County, FL. Please review the course descriptions carefully, as they have recently been revised. This course is full and registration is closed. The next course will most likely be in late May or early June. Stay tuned.
Private, group and custom classes are available. Wildlands also provides informational courses (non-authorized agent courses) to organizations interested in learning about gopher tortoise biology and the laws protecting tortoises. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
* *Please note that the cost of these courses does NOT include the separate $544 mitigation contribution charged by FWC upon submission of the application to become an Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agent.
Full Course Descriptions
GT1000 – Gopher Tortoise Ecology and FWC Permitting Guidelines: This course provides the necessary background on gopher tortoise biology and conservation that is critical for understanding the permitting guidelines and the need for regulations protecting the gopher tortoise. Covered topics include a thorough review of FWC rules, penalties, and guidelines, including how to determine whether or not a permit is needed, interpreting the 25-foot radius guideline, permitting guidelines, mitigation contributions, and types of permits. This course also introduces students to the FWC Online Permit System.
While no certification is provided after passing this course, a passing grade is a requirement for any individuals wishing to take courses that provide training for specific permitted activities as an Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agent. This course is also ideal for individuals who want to learn more about gopher tortoises and their protection measures but do not plan to become Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agents. It is particularly helpful in this capacity for those who work for local governments in permitting and permit review capacities. Individuals who are already Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agents are exempt from this requirement.
GT2000 – Gopher Tortoise Survey Techniques for Relocation (Donor) Sites: This course provides a detailed review of the survey requirements for relocation (donor) sites as described in the most current FWC Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines. This course will provide hands-on training for conducting surveys on development sites. It will also more thoroughly review the requirements for the documentation necessary for submitting permit applications and cover GIS and map-making necessary for these requirements. Students will have a take home assignment where they go through the process of generating maps and gopher tortoise population estimates necessary for submitting a permit.
GT2100: Gopher Tortoise Survey Techniques for Recipient Sites: This course provides an optional add-on to GT2000 that reviews the additional survey requirements for permitting recipient sites as described in the most current FWC Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines. In addition to the hands-on training for conducting gopher tortoise surveys as part of the GT2500 curriculum, this course will provide hands-on training for measuring gopher tortoise burrow widths and estimating burrow occupancy rates using burrow scopes. Students will be given an additional take-home assignment where they go through the process of generating maps and baseline gopher tortoise population estimates necessary for determining stocking rates at recipient sites.
GT3000 – Gopher Tortoise Capture and Transport: This course focuses on aspects related to capture and transport of tortoises at recipient sites. Lecture material will cover aspects related to supervision of burrow excavation using mechanical equipment, but this class does NOT meet the training requirements for this activity, which requires significantly more one-on-one time to conduct properly. Students will receive hands-on training in setting both bucket and live traps for the safe and efficient capture of tortoises, conducting hand shovel excavation, measuring tortoises, conducting a cursory health examination, and requirements for safe handling and transport of tortoises.
Students who successfully earn a passing grade in this course will be provided with a letter supporting their application to conduct gopher tortoise capture by bucket traps, live traps, and hand shovel excavation as an Authorized Gopher Tortoise Agent through FWC.
GT31000 – Supervision of Burrow Excavations Using Mechanical Equipment: This advanced course provides one-on-one training necessary to conduct the excavation of gopher tortoise burrows by directing the use of a backhoe. Because of the risk of harm to gopher tortoises, commensals, and persons assisting with the excavation, these courses are limited in size, depending on the nature of the relocation project for which the excavation is permitted. A typical course size would consist of one or two individuals, and never more than five students. For each course, the instructor will review the requirements for supervision of burrow excavations in the permitting guidelines. Field activities will consist of the instructor demonstrating the full excavation of two potentially occupied gopher tortoises while directing a backhoe. Then, each student will be required to successfully complete the excavation of four burrows while directing the backhoe with the instructor providing input during the excavation.
GT3500 – Gopher Tortoise Marking, Transport, and Release: This course focuses on aspects related to marking and release of tortoises at recipient sites. Lecture material will cover the FWC permitting guidelines with respect to proper marking techniques and release of captured tortoises. In addition, students will receive hands on training on marking and measuring a minimum of five (5) live tortoises.
Students who successfully earn a passing grade in this course will be provided with a letter supporting their application to conduct gopher tortoise mark, transport, and release ONLY after having marked a minimum of five (5) live gopher tortoises under the supervision of an instructor. If a sufficient number of live tortoises for marking are unavailable during the scheduled class, students who have successfully passed the classroom portions of this class can schedule private opportunities to complete the hands-on training requirement when tortoises are available to be marked under a separate permit.
GT4000 – Recipient Site Permitting and Management: This course provides a more in-depth review of the advanced requirements for recipient sites according to the most current FWC Gopher Tortoise Permitting Guidelines. This course will provide hands-on training for assessing the suitability of potential recipient sites, enclosures for release of relocated tortoises, vegetation sampling on recipient sites, record keeping, conservation easements, long-term management and monitoring of recipient sites, and reporting requirements for recipient sites.