To support the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) ongoing conservation management efforts at its facilities, VHB’s natural resource staff from Raleigh, Williamsburg, Richmond, and Atlanta conducted gopher tortoise surveys across approximately 9,200 acres at Fort Gordon near Augusta, Georgia. Since most military installations take up large portions of undeveloped land for training and security, the 55,000-acre Fort Gordon offers significant areas of habitat in the tortoise’s northernmost known range. Due to the significant decline of habitat from both anthropogenic and climate change, these annual surveys are not only a means for determining density but also vital to their overall survival. Periodic monitoring of existing gopher tortoise habitat and usage is critical to understanding population statistics.
To conduct the study, VHB’s biologists used the line transect sampling method, a process that involved following a straight line within a designated study area to measure burrows within a predefined distance. As the tortoises’ burrows were encountered, VHB biologists took measurements of the openings, noted any special characteristics, and inserted a scope or camera into those that showed signs of activity. These efforts and other methods for keeping up with current population trends are a proactive approach to prevent this species from facing extinction in our lifetime.